Despite the limitations brought on by Covid-19, there is still been room to breath here in the Pacific Northwest. Time to slip and slide up a snowy trail in the Cascades as vegetation begins to emerge from the melt. A chance to paddle out and surf in the powerful and cold currents of the Pacific. As a father, there is little time to setup an epic photo, but my 10-stop filter comes in handy when I can’t wait around for the perfect shot.
I recently returned to Nicaragua to welcome 2018 and take advantage of the world-class waves, constant offshore winds, and diverse landscape and culture. Again, I was not disappointed. I would keep my mouth shut it if it were not for the fact that Nicaragua is now regularly featured on travel sites like the New York Times. Gringos are not the only ones carving it in to the next Costa Rica. Nicaraguan investors know what kind of assets they have at their disposal.
Nicaragua has in fact been exploited since the Spanish arrived in 1522. The usual pillaging and plundering, along with the circulation of small pox, did a number on the Chorotega. Nevertheless, the contributions of the Spanish are still appreciated today. Granada is a charming colonial city reflecting the Spanish-Moorish architecture of the time. They also constructed the San Pablo Fort to protect Granada from pirates in 1789, and it can still be visited via boat.
Later on in the 1800s a dubious character from Nashville, Tennessee by the name of William Walker did significant damage on his filibustering campaigns in Central America. Not only did he burn Granada to the ground, but he also poisoned the wells with dead bodies that spread Cholera and killed some 10,000 Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans. Walker eventually paid for his actions when he found himself in front of a firing squad in Honduras.
Fortunately, Granada has time and again picked itself up and rebuilt. Before the Panama canal was constructed this was the shortest distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Cornelius Vanderbilt would steam up the San Juan River in to Lago de Nicaragua, and then make the short transport over to San Juan del Sur area on the coast of the Pacific. This route pumped money in to Granada and helped it to recover.
A few things you must do in Granada:
- Visit the San Francisco Convent to see the statuaries that have been excavated from Zapatera and Ometepe. A couple of these guys are in the Smithsonian, but you can see 30 of them all together in the same room. Each one represents the leader of the time, so they all have their own personalities. This is a highly informative account of their origins.
- Check out Mi Museo where there are many artifacts from Pre-Columbian times. It also helped me to understand where the Chorotega came from and when.
- Take a boat tour out to Las Isletas. These islands are a result of a massive explosion from Mombacho. Lots of wildlife, and you get to see the San Pablo Fort.
- Visit Volcan Masaya at night to see lava pouring from the crater. You definitely want to get there early to avoid waiting in line, but it is worth it.
- Tour the coffee plantation on Mombacho and then hike out to the stunning views of Granada and Lago de Nicaragua.
- If you still have time then head over to Pueblo Blancos to see local artisans at work. You will save yourself some money, for the shops around Granada certainly mark their prices up.
There are a couple of reasons why Nicaragua is safer than say El Salvador, Colombia, or Honduras. After the Nicaraguan Revolution, the country created a democratic police state in that each community would have at least one dedicated police officer that everyone knew. A bad apple arises, and they deal with the issue quickly. Second, drugs from Colombia and elsewhere go up the Caribbean side, so there are no cartels in the Pacific region.
Still, I wouldn’t drive at night. But during the day I generally went wherever I wanted. In the dry season you can get a way with a 2-wheel drive vehicle. But if the price is not much different then go with 4-wheel. I did end up using it along the coast to drive a section of road that terminated on beach front. It also gave me more confidence on dirt roads with potholes and stream crossings. In short, you are not limited and instead prepared for anything.
I’d tell you more about the surf breaks, but I just can’t do it. You’ll find it somewhere else. 😉
But I will tell you that I look forward to returning soon.
I walk upright and could tease a termite out of a mound with just one stick. I’m an educated man – I’ve read stuff – and what not. And after skiing in the Lake Tahoe area for almost 10 years, crisscrossing and crossing the entire Sierra Nevada chain, and making repeated trips to Utah and Park City for 6 years running, one would think I possess a certain amount of reason when it comes to venturing out in the backcountry. But apparently that is not the case. However, before you judge me hear me out.
I live in Florida now, and I’m also a new father. The amount of ski days I got this year can be counted on one hand. So, to say I was chomping at the bit when I got to Park City last week would be an understatement. 17-inches of new snow did little to abate my excitement.
Powder Between Friends
What could be better than having nothing to do but rip endless fields of powder with good friends? Nothing. Except for here’s the problem: Occasionally, I like to earn my turns, and none of my friends on this trip wanted to hike. Furthermore, not a single one of them owns any backcountry gear. Okay, I guess I’ll simply stay in bounds and enjoy what the ski resort has to offer. But…but…look at all that untracked POW!!! Taunting me like Christmas candy and piles of cash shoved in to a well in the midst of a dry, scorching dessert. I resisted the first day…and the second.
Up until then I’d politely followed the group, accommodated late starts, pursued whims, and endured long lunches. And it didn’t really matter because Park City Mountain Resort continually served up runs of untracked powder on fun, steep terrain. One can happily ski the Jupiter and McConkey’s bowls all day long until it occurs to them that there is so much more hiding in Thaynes, King Con, or even Bonanza.
But when it came to the third day I was ready for something off-piste. Our group had made the short trip over to The Canyons Resort, and I could see many of the classic backcountry runs the ski resort is known for slowly but surely being marred by unencumbered skiers and snowboarders. I could not idly ski by any longer. So when Ninety-Nine 90 dropped us off for the third time that day, I politely waved to my party and said that I would see them at Peak 5.
The Draw of the Dutch
I quickly made my way up and out along the skier’s right ridge, stopping only for a moment at Dutch’s notch to kick out of my skis again. I began hiking up to the far peak where the snow was the most preserved, and I was at the top in no time. I took note of the fact that I was not alone, which made me feel a little safer. It was a false sense of security, however, because the beacon I was carrying offered little assurance that anyone else on the peak had one, let alone a shovel, probe, or concern for my well-being. But my run was just what we all dream of with shots of powder intermittently blinding me before arcing in to the next turn. I got down to Peak 5 and immediately decided that I would take another backcountry run – alone.
Peak 5 Slide
With great intention, I pulled the gate open at the back of Peak 5 and began hiking up the ridge. The snow was deeper than I expected and the going was slow. I felt low on energy and decided I would cut out early, catch my friends at lunch, and come back refreshed and hopefully with a companion. I was unfamiliar with my exact surroundings, but having skied along this ridge many times in past years, I nonchalantly began ripping down through the trees. I could see a substantial rise approaching, so I threw in a hard edge and abruptly stopped to get a closer look. This action immediately set off a small slide to my left and below, and while seemingly insignificant by the looks of the photos, it would have carried me over a series of rock shelves and down in to a grove of trees – alone.
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I shook this whole occurrence off quickly, traversed around the rocks, and went off to meet my friends only after enjoying a few more precious powder turns. Now here’s where it just gets plain dumb.
Not only do I know how Utah’s light snow can be, and often is, lethal, but I had just seen proof it was unstable on the very same day. But what do I proceed to go and do? Convince my friends, who are novices when it comes to the backcountry and avalanche conditions, to go and do a hike with me off the back of Peak 5. Nice!
Three of us did the hike, this time dropping the large open bowl to skier’s right. Fortunately, nothing bad happened. The run was in fact fantastic, and it was made even sweeter when we just barely caught the last lift out of there right at 4pm on the nose. But a conversation later transpired between me and one of my best childhood friends that has stuck with me ever since. He asked,
“How would you get out of an avalanche?”
Really, there are no easier answers to this question; in fact, more experts die in avalanches than any other group. The best course of action is avoidance through the proper study of snow conditions. This means taking in to account no less than the amount of recent snowfall, layers, temperature, aspect, and degree of slope. After evaluating these factors, you of course want to make sure everyone in your party is equipped with a beacon, probe, shovel, and knowledge of how to use each one of them. Even then there are inherent risks, as well as weaknesses. For example, plastic shovels are pathetic in comparison to metal blades, for the snow can be extremely difficult to dig through. Regarding beacons, I can remember besting a Squaw Valley Ski Patroller during an avalanche training course only because I had a more modern beacon. His transceiver beeped directions to the hidden victim, but my digital version literally pointed the way.
If you get caught in an avalanche you must try to stay on the surface by using a backwards swimming motion. I have a friend who pulled this one off when he slid from top to bottom in the Chutes at Mount Rose Ski Resort. He was lucky enough to have part of his face and arm sticking out when he finally came to rest, but he still had to be dug out of the binding snow. In most cases, however, the slide victim is not so lucky. Some are smashed in to trees and rocks and immediately die from the resulting trauma. Others are literally ground in to a bloody mass from lacerations and the mashing of heavy pieces of ice. None of it is pretty. As I explained all of this to my friend he said, “I’m to old for this shit – I’ve got kids!” As if waking from a pervasive fog I thought to myself, so do I.
Choosing Your Line
It is here at this point that you are possibly expecting me to say, I’ll never go out in the backcountry again. But that is not likely. What I will say is that I will always strive to ski with a buddy, choose the safest slopes possible, pack extra backcountry gear, or rent it, and always be clear with myself and any accomplices on the inherent dangers involved. Keep in mind what a rather poignant Summit County Sheriff once said, ”If you’re an adult and you want to go and risk your life, it’s your business…We just have to clean up the mess.”
Trust me, I want to avoid the mess as much as the next sane person. I used to debate with a good friend about the dangers of outdoor sports, and he would argue that a person was more likely to be killed in a car accident. I would disagree. I was still disagreeing when an earthquake dislodged a boulder on to a highway that almost killed me. My car was totaled and I was lucky to walk away from it. It pains me to think I could have died riding a proverbial groomer.
Our lines in life are rarely clean, but they are certainly made better by applying the knowledge, skills, and patience we do have. These are the attributes we need to take our pursuits out of bounds and push the limits, and still make it back to the parking lot to take our boots off when the day is done.
The great thing about Gotham City is that you are guaranteed to experience something new even if you’re revisiting a familiar spot. Fortunately on this trip, I had the chance to retrace some steps as well as draw upon local friends (1 & 2) for new experiences. Of course, there are so many different things to do in this grand city, so I’m not going to detail the whole excursion. You know how to get to the Empire State Building, right? But here are few highlights:
First off, if you get a chance to see the Tim Burton exhibit at the MoMA you will be amazed at his mastery over multiple mediums. His artistic ability is more diverse than you would ever guess. It is not only wonderful to see the progression in Tim Burton’s career, but also peek inside his pernicious imagination. There is always something new to absorb at the MoMA, so it is worth a trip, every trip. And take the time to do the audio guide. If you are looking to conserve that cash then consider Target Free Friday Nights sponsored by Target.
Speaking of free, a trip to New York is not complete without a stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and if you hit it on the first weekend of the month – AND you are a Bank of America customer – you save $20. That’s money you can spend on lunch at E.A.T. If you’ve never seen a grilled cheese that cost $14 then here is the place. But you guessed it, the food is good.
If you want some free cheese and find yourself near Bryant Park, you might want to drop down to the Cellar Bar in the bottom of The Bryant Park Hotel. Whether your order the Passion, Orgasm, or some other less scintillating drink, you’ll get some small appetizers gratis. The Cellar is a pretty cool space for drinking and getting served by scantily clad gothic waitresses.
Sex isn’t only used to sling drinks in New York. The Standard Hotel, Polshek’s new creation located in the old Meatpacking District, took a rather interesting approach, not only in its design, but the marketing of its decidedly nonstandard rooms. Here’s one advertisement before they fully completed the building:
If you find yourself in the Meatpacking District, check out the The High Line, which is an elevated walkway running through the West Side neighborhoods. The path used to act as a rail line bringing meat and supplies to the local warehouses and stores. Now it serves as a park with stunning views of the city juxtaposed to an integrated landscape featuring natural plants and grasses. The design was a collaborative effort between landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations, and architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. There is much to see and you just never know what might leap out at you.
I must admit I’ve never really checked out Brooklyn, but this time was different, and to say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. With beautiful brownstone neighborhoods like Park Slope, entertainment venues such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and even Prospect Park where, believe it or not, more than one tree co-habits, there is no wonder why so many young professionals call it home. There’s even good surfing at Rockaway Beach just 15 minutes away, and getting to and from Manhattan on the subway is generally smooth sailing. Oh, and then there are the restaurants.
Unlike New York, chefs in Brooklyn can literally afford to go out on their own and be more experimental. There are many fabulous eateries to choose from, but on this trip we followed up on a tip from a local “foodie” who sent us to No. 7. Everything was delicious. I had the Grilled Wagyu Bavette Steak, which was out-of-control good. Who would have thought blueberries and steak go together so well?
Walking off all these consumptive habits is an absolute requirement. I tromped and tromped, and Brooklyn was no exception. Starting from Park Slope, a great stroll unfolded through Carroll Gardens, out on to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and down to DUMBO (down under manhattan bridge overpass) for a Bloody at Bubby’s. All along the way are beautiful vistas of the Manhattan skyline, Governor’s Island, and the East River. New York’s green initiatives are being seen and felt all around, and it will be great to return when the new park out on the piers below the Promenade is completed.
So all is good in Gotham. The most intimidating and liberating city around still serves up the most beautiful and inspiring architecture, art, food, people, and places that could capitalize a lifetime. Sort of like this book, which is definitely on my reading list. There should be a few more discoveries to be had in New York by the time I am done reading it. At the very least I should take a paddle.
One’s Personal Perspective
Costa Rica is an eco-tourist’s dream. An abundance of flora and fauna, beautiful beaches, and big mountains make this country equally appealing to both naturalists and recreationalists alike. You can surf, fish, hike, rappel waterfalls, fly through the treetops on zip lines, race horses on the beach, and witness more wildlife than you ever thought existed.
However, the one characteristic of Costa Rica that is lacking, especially to those familiar with such destinations as Mexico, Peru, the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean for that matter, is the unimpressive architecture and a seemingly undefined or preserved culture.
Yes, there are coffee, chocolate, and African palm plantations, a few scattered pre-Columbian sites, and some evidence of Spanish influence, but frankly it is not that interesting in comparison to other places in the world where humans have left their mark. Costa Rica is beautiful, and its people are noble and proud, but it is not a place one should necessarily visit if they quickly get bored of ocean and rain forest activities.
Fortunately for me, I love to surf, and I am somewhat of amateur ornithologist. I appreciated the countless incredible surf spots and Costa Rica’s efforts to preserve large tracts of land in the form of reserves and national parks.
For many people the Yucatan represents Cancun, the Mayan Riviera, and Chichen-Itza. While each of these locations posses many positive attributes for the wayfarer, there are many other reasons to travel to the Yucatan. Most flights do culminate at Cancun, but there are also air services to Merida and Campeche on the Gulf side of the Peninsula if you prefer to start there.
As you approach the Cancun airport, the first striking characteristic is the relative flatness of the terrain. Thick vegetation commands the landscape in an even blanket that stretches in all directions. The only thing breaking the even green is a lonesome road or a foreboding electric tower appearing larger than it should be considering the surroundings.
The reason the Peninsula is so flat is because it is entirely composed of a limestone shelf jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The layers of limestone are composed of the life and death of compacted ancient coral reefs and sand, which serve as a metaphor for the multi-layered human history that chiseled its own existence into the surface of this even terrain starting more than 12,000 years ago.
Built on time, stone, and water, human habitation of the Yucatan has always relied on the geologic composition. At first glance, one would surmise that there is no fresh water available in this flat landscape. Surface lakes and rivers are practically nonexistent, for they lay predominately underground. The spongy limestone has been carved from underneath by the slow erosive properties of water and time, and it has created a vast network of cenotes (wells) and connecting rivers fed by rain and springs, which bring life. A trip to the Yucatan would not be complete without a visit to one of the countless cenotes that pock the landscape.
Here in the Tahoe region there are so many recreational opportunities at one’s fingertips. With the distinctive seasons, beautiful mountains, and close proximity to the coast or desert, it is a wonder that anyone has time to venture elsewhere. However, a vast world lies open for exploration with many different cultures and characteristics to amuse and amaze the curious mind.
Interestingly enough, a particular expeditionary company by the name of Bio Bio Expeditions operates right here out of Truckee, and their specialty is to guide those who seek to see foreign locales away from the fray of other tourists. It is this particular company that enabled me to experience Peru in a way that I will never forget. The mission was to navigate one of the deepest canyons on earth, the Cotahuasi.