Beyond Atlas http://beyondatlas.com Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:36:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 A unexpected romantic date in Paris http://beyondatlas.com/a-date-in-paris/ http://beyondatlas.com/a-date-in-paris/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:35:30 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1279 read more]]> Versailles

Paris, you are beautiful to behold. Looking at the reflection of the Eiffel tower in the water, as the fireworks lighted the sky to the left. We took the metro early enough for us to find the places that were mentioned to us by locals. 
Getting to the metro was fun, it was packed with people and many were standing up. The exit for the tower was closed and we were taken to the next station where human herds were moving towards the most famous monument of France.
The streets were closed and full of sexy French men in cops uniforms. I wonder where they got hundreds of very fit and good looking guys to fulfill the security needs of the city during the most pedestrian traffic in the city center. 
We made it close to the tower, but realized it was not where we needed to be. It was time to cross the canal and head towards the two museums that frame the tower and have the fireworks right in front of it. We saw the multitude of people seating there, about 3thousand gathered in a small space, I danced and skipped myself towards the middle where i found a place to seat. But there was something wrong with the location.  Camera-wise not a good location, since the light of the fireworks would overwhelm the tower and only the fireworks will show up. Unless the camera has the settings that are needed, and the person knows how to use them. We moved on, as Thad went back to the bridge where we thought the view and access to good photos would be at, I bought some baggets (very French of us) and got us a nice white wine. I went towards the bridge and found Thad, in a perfect spot, where we could have a small picnic. Meet a Australian couple, traveling for 3 months before school started. It was great conversation.
We sat and enjoyed the baggets and wine, we talked. Thad had picked a perfect area. 
A kiss as we stood under a bridge, over a water channel, with the lighted Eiffel tower in one side and fireworks on the other. 
A date in Paris.

Angela Arvizu

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Paris Metro http://beyondatlas.com/paris-metro/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:34:10 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1278 read more]]> The metro is known for its high pace, high mobility and high price, sometimes too high. 
Looking at the people that are in the subway, you can see there is something wrong. Women holding their bags with both hands to their chest, men making their personal space. People looking sideways. There, in the subway underground are people that are supported by a low moral system.
As the people grapple their purses and look at strangers with untrustworthy eyes, I consider the social implications of why is this is still happening, specially in this high tech, low forgiveness society. 
Yes, we were robbed, a wallet taken from us by a child and older lady. Who is there to trust? 
More and more you can feel the stress and distrust of people. 
As I traveled through more cities with metro systems, I realize that Paris is the one place the government is not willing to touch. A delinquency supported by the government.
Why am I making such a claim? 
Government cares about money, mobilizing money. Money in the metro is mostly stolen from tourists, the money will still go into the community, and all of it utilized within the city. Why would they want to stop this? Is the tourists that are not important, since they will keep coming to one of the most popular destinations for tourism in the world.
Why are they supporting them? 
By doing nothing, they do some paper work, but that is all. Where are the cameras, where are the undercover cops. The force of the government in Paris is weak, and shameful. Why don’t they look into many other systems in different countries that work, that are free of this kind of metro terror. 
Paris government turns its head and degrades the quality of their people.

Paris city: 8 +
Paris people ( some other French too, thanks captain):  2-

Hope my next visits will make me think of this city in a different way, one can always hope.

Angela Arvizu 

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Paritian Water Fountains http://beyondatlas.com/paritian-water-fountains/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:27:28 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1276 read more]]> Paris has created a path for healthy living, even in the worst circumstances, a person is able to acquire clean water. Water fountains are located around the city, a constant water source of clean water for all.
Water should be something that is given freely to all human beings. Counties and cities should have a similar system design to provide a basic necessary human need. 
The fountains were made of metal, dark green in color, cold to the touch, and high up. 
Someone, sometime made a decision that was for the people, for the community. A community action that is for the benefit of health, well being, and a healthy population. 
Paris city, thank you.

Angela Arvizu

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Welcome to Paris http://beyondatlas.com/welcome-to-paris/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:23:12 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1272 read more]]>  

Without a plan, an airport might seem overwhelming. It seems we have shown up at the busiest time for Paris, also since is busy it becomes more expensive. We got the metro pass and we went on to find the place where we will sleep that night.
I won’t go into details, but it ended up with me having to go and mediate the situation. At that time I was impressed at my self. This first time was only the beginning, the last night we were there became a 3 hour project, that ended in success.

Paris, you are beautiful. Your architecture is spectacular, transport, community areas, water fountains. You have it all. 

French people, minus a few of exceptions, left a lot to be desired. I  haven’t been through the whole world, but so far I feel there are more than just a few good French, I just haven’t encounter them. 30 not so good French  against 3 awesome ones.
Stealing, lying, scaming, discriminating, the list goes on. I’m disappointed in how blunt the negative side of the Paris population is. 

Angela Arvizu 

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Sao Miguel in one day http://beyondatlas.com/sao-miguel-in-one-day/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:21:24 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1270 read more]]> The plane lifted off, we could not stop looking though the window, seeing the expanse of the sea, no longer lacking the knowledge of what it meant to be there, in one of those sail boats floating in the blue water. 
We exclaimed in awe about how fast we were moving. Thad did the calculations, for every hour on the boat, it was a minute on the plane. I felt like a little kid of the first time in an airplane, i had forgotten what a luxury and revolutionary invention the plane was. 
The Azores islands would appear and disappear. Leaving behind unexplored land that made me feel a sense of loss. 
One island, Pico, raising from the sea and showing a beautiful volcano, Punta do Pico. Similar to the island called Ometepe, located in the middle of a lake, in Nicaragua. In this case it is in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. 
Sao Miguel, our first city, somehow we found ourselves next to the docking port where we might have stopped. Beautiful city, and a nice hostel to sleep in. They separated the girls and the guys, and we met a couple that spoke English, I think she was from Portugal and he from the UK.  Got up early to get the bus to the airport. 
Next stop, Paris.

Angela Arvizu 

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Leaving Flores http://beyondatlas.com/leaving-flores/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:20:35 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1268 read more]]> Hitching the last ride from Lajes to Santa Cruz allowed us to meet a local man. He drove a work vehicle, and we packed ourselves in like sardines. He spoke little English, but we were still able to communicate. He stoped at the store and got us a cold drink and some other drinks for workers at a site about a kilometer away. He was happy and proud, the kind of man that has build his empire with his two hands, literally since he had a garden, house, 8 cows and still worked construction.  
The hotel we stayed in was next to a man made beach, we’re many went to socialize, show their styles, new swim suits, hats and muscles also a place to get into the cold, very cold sea. Beautiful girls laying on the concrete, hoping for a tan. Men posting and flexing attempting to call attention. Children jumping into the water and playing. There were also jelly fish that were taken out with a long handle basket. The jelly fish were so cool looking. We had fun, stretched, swam and enjoyed the last day in this paradise of an island that we were stranded in. 
Time to go to the airport. 
Next stop, Sao Miguel

Angela Arvizu 

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Flores bench http://beyondatlas.com/flores-bench/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 21:59:36 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1265 read more]]> Flores 

During the first 20 minutes walking around the city of Lodges, I had found the place where I knew I had to seat. This place called to me, and I would desire it every time we would go by it. I’m finally here, to my back the church, to my sides cannons overlooking the water and the ship yard. Yes, it’s beautiful.
Flores, doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by touristic influence, and the tourist that come, tend to follow a schedule….. I suppose I’m trying to synchronize many things and over all my overview is failing.
Life takes unexpected turns, I feel like I have many more turns, not unlike a path through a mountain pass. The mountain passes might show you long stretches of the road you are taking, or only a few hundred meters. My favorite might be when you are looking at a beautiful mountain overlook, where you can see on the opposite mountain a small stretch of the road. 

Angela Arvizu

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Stranded in Flower Paradise http://beyondatlas.com/stranded-in-flower-paradise/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 21:49:10 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1263 read more]]> Have you seen the movie “Cast Away”? It was nothing like that.
Cascades, hikes, long refines, cow pastures with perfect green grass, bunnies jumping, butterflies, flowers and more flowers, rows of flowers, on the hill, on the side walk…. Flowers.

European style houses, rock padded sidewalks, canons overlooking the harbor, artistic clean public bathrooms, gardens, rocky beaches, rock walled mazes through cow fields, streams of green, mazes made out of rocks, rock walls 400+ years old, white paint, red roofs. All of it highlighted with more cascades and more flowers.

People, Portuguese, open arms, warm welcomeness, well tended gardens, social gatherings during the night, one euro beers, open supermarkets at 12, siestas, gossip, strangers, picking up hikers, workers, retirees,  Germans, Finlanders, Portuguese, Flores born and raised, personal waterfalls, being called “the Americans”, weekend social free lunches, male defined areas, beautiful librarian, hard working men, good looking truck driver with gentle eyes, young full bloom woman showing her beauty under a new hat and wearing a bathing suit, hotel hosted with a business ethic, policeman giving us a ride at 11 p.m., retired German couple, young German couple, construction worker, government official from Laredo, couple from the super store, getting a ride due to groceries, ridding with a dog,  amazing views after a long hike and some wine.

Horse with sobbing bottom lip, chained dogs, frazzled kitties, cute kitties on a wall, dog protecting kittens, kitty in the middle of the hike, working horse, cows with legs tied, black sheep in company  of bleach white sheep, goats, baby goats, different style goats, jumping bunnies, dead bunnies on the road, dead bunnies by poison, I ate bunny in a restaurant.

Flowers, dark blue, light blue, every shade of blue, purple, pink, yellow, alive and dead, cut, fallen, blooming…… Just too many to continue.

The emotional side might need to be a bit more descriptive. 
Scammed, by an individual that  will martyr himself into death. 
Angry, at not leaving before, and at defending him thought out our voyage. 
Disappointment, at myself for not telling our captain how we knew of how poor he spoke of us. His attempt to look better and his need of petty from strangers, .
Acceptance of the fact that we had been stranded.
Relief, at knowing the next two weeks will be comfortable and fun.
Surprised, at the fact that I could again be a female, sexy, and comfortable with my body without the previous judgement. (I was unable to express myself, I felt……uncomfortable.) 
Active, let’s get ready to stay here attitude, let’s get a place to live.
Friendly backpacking mentality came back.  I started asking individuals for information and help.
Proud about asking strangers for assistance until we found our new home.
Ecstatic, at the long shower, clean clothes, and beauty to come.

Beauty and purpose. 

Angela Arvizu

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Letter to self http://beyondatlas.com/letter-to-self/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 21:32:54 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1261 read more]]> Angela,

Not every one can get along, there are limits. Even the most sociable person you know has told you they have limits. Striving to make every one happy won’t make every one happy. Remember what your mother told you about victims? Nothing ever ends well. Remember the signs of victimization? It creates chaos. 
At times you will be wanted, other times unwanted, either way someone gets off. 
Finally, causation. 

Angela Arvizu

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Letter to my Captain http://beyondatlas.com/letter-to-my-captain/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 21:28:54 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1259 read more]]> Mr. Captain

You speak poorly of your wife, and women in general. You are running from the education that your parents, brothers, sisters, and wife have. You live in a small life called Captain. Out of your 7 passengers only one stayed, the newest one. 
One way communication is no communication at all. 
You have to respect degrees and scholastic  achievement, it takes true dedication and years to achieve. 
I suppose you will still run away, heading to the sea, where no one gives you a different opinion and you only know people for short periods of time, just long enough for them not to  know the true you. 
A shobanistic  man doesn’t know the other half of himself. A little man for a little boat. 

From:
Crew member

Angela Arvizu

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Two weeks traversing the Atlantic http://beyondatlas.com/two-weeks-traversing-the-atlantic/ Tue, 10 Sep 2013 21:26:25 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1257 read more]]> Two weeks at sea 

It took two weeks to get to the Acores, Portugal. During the first week, all was calm and pleasant, but it seemed that people stated to separate into two groups. Our captain seemed a little too enthusiastic to do everything. Taking long hours steering, and tacking by himself, putting the sails up and down without saying anything, or asking for help.
It was interesting to see how almost sneaky he was about it. Quite pleasantly letting us steered when there was no wind, and in the moment he will start steering 3 minutes later after he realized how hard it was, he would turn on the motor. Once his shift finished he would tell the next person, that they were using too much gas and turn it off, making them  steer in a no win situation.
I don’t know how many times I offered for me to take his place at the wheel, but he rarely would say yes. But would always sheepishly ask another crew member to please help him out.
It felt like I was being setup on something. I supposed I realized my predicament when the bacon was cooked. The bacon had stayed in the fridge for a long time, maybe due to knowledge  that if you cooked it, you would be the bad guy FOREVER. At last the bacon could wait no longer and our captain cooked it. Strangely enough he served me, but served no one else. He quickly gave me the bowl with smash potatoes and the bacon  underneath it. I got nervous and realized there were 3 pieces of bacon in my own bowl, and got really scared. I went to the kitchen where two other people were serving themselves and asked if people had enough bacon. There wasn’t enough, so I took out one and gave it to Marc and said that there were more on the bowl on the kitchen for the other person, but to leave one for Thad.
I felt scared, for two reasons, if he was being nice to me, the fact that I was scared of his niceties is not a good sign. Second, if he was setting me up, he could say how I put so much bacon on mine and possibly how he only had one pice or maybe even none. In one word, unconfortable.
His constant battering of other people made me angry, maybe because I was the only other person that understood Spanish. His indirect battering about us made me at one point even clap at what he was saying. I had seen this before, in Cuba. Our captain becoming the supposed victim of 3 (starving) americans.  Cuba should have been the first clue that he would play the victim. What else could I do?  

Once we reached the Acores, the jokes about being stranded here started. I supposed we knew he was just on land long enough to check that all the money was wired to him.  

Jokes became reality. He sailed without us. We were stranded in a flowery Paradise. 

Angela Arvizu

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Run Angela Run http://beyondatlas.com/run-angela-run/ Thu, 11 Jul 2013 00:46:15 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1221 read more]]> As Thad and Marc left for the city, I was finally able to go for a run. I was so exited that I didn’t realize the distance between San George and Hamilton. For the first 2/3 of the run about 18-20 kilometers, it was amazing. My legs acked in all the right places, my mind was at peace, my heart pumped strong and healthy, I missed the ability of being mobil. I miss the world of the living. And I run though the world of the dead, passing though a cementery and remenecing my runs towards the university crossing the big cementery. Nothing like a good cementery run.
As I continued I realized I was low on energy and also low on water and time. My run became too long 5 kilometers before my destination. I walked and fast walked for the rest of the distance. I made it to the bus station at 5:36 p.m. and Thad had left in a bus at 5:32 p.m.
I had to talk myself into walking to get something to eat, so I went to the surpermarket, where they have an array of meal choices for a very cheap price of 9 Bermudan dollars per pound. The cheapest thing around, I also think the best. The walk to the park where I was planing to eat felt like a super slow marathon. I finally made it, took my shoes off and looked for the first time at all numerous blisters. The where quite a few of them and I sighed at the relief that I didn’t stop until I had food with me. I ate slowly, watching all the people walking though the main street, heading to expensive restaurants painted in pastel colors. The locals didnt know what to make of me streching my legs and feet, while the tourists didn’t really cared.
Steamed vegetables, a bit of meat, and some salad.
I acked all over and it felt so good, and I had the best meal ever. It was all good.

Angela Arvizu

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Bermuda http://beyondatlas.com/bermuda-2/ Thu, 11 Jul 2013 00:22:30 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1196 read more]]> IMG_9224

The small chaos that comes with docking after a long voyage is fun, knowing that we will touch unmoving land mass is always a very exiting experience. We are ready, and the place looks unreal. We stay behind while the captain anchored the boat, the guys were planing to help him do all of this but his insistence that they should stay was too good of an offer to pass up. This action might have cost us. We didn’t anchor on the harbor because it cost the captain 45 dollars per day. This would have been 3 days of comfort, or a lot of adventures in the dingy. Dingy it was.

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The White Horse was the first restaurant we ate at. Expensive doesn’t even explain this island, super expensive might. Lucky for us, this was one of the cheaper places. Even more lucky, Scott treated us to dinner. Finally we are on land and have food, the view, the atmosphere, the full belly and life is good.

We checked out some of the beaches, and learned the bus system. I started to count the people running, and there weren’t many. My body desired to run, and run.

The island was borderline creepy in that it felt like it had too many arrangements, and structure. British-American- semi Caribbean, aalthouugh they made sure of separating themselves from the caribe. And of course the Bermuda shorts with long socks, used appropriately, very sexy. Blue and turquoise waters, populate by small quantity of locals, or hundreds of cruise friendly people. At one point we sat down at a coffee shop with an incredible 20 minute free Internet access, and nest to us were a couple from Utah. It felt unusual to meet some one else from Salt Lake City, after so many months traveling and finally meeting one, it felt unusual.

They had a festival and we were able to enjoy their local dances, food and the free entertainment of tourist watching, courtesy of the nick-nack shops, providing the consumeristic fix. The next day we went to the airport to say good bye to Scott and pick up Marc. It was sad to see him leave, I really like his personality. We had such amazing times with him, but he was going back full of plans.

Welcome to Bermuda a.k.a. Candy Land.

Angela Arvizu

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Arriving to Bermuda http://beyondatlas.com/arriving-to-bermuda/ Wed, 10 Jul 2013 23:52:37 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1183 read more]]> IMG_9792

There it is, in the distance, a beautiful green and white scattering of land. We saw a few ships leaving Bermuda, a military ship with a helicopter on the back. Today was one of the few days I felt comfortable taking off my top, and enjoying the sun without the worry of tan lines. These days are rare, and I take full enjoyment in this. Land, beautiful beautiful land.

Angela Arvizu

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Into the Rainbow http://beyondatlas.com/into-the-rainbow/ http://beyondatlas.com/into-the-rainbow/#comments Tue, 09 Jul 2013 23:53:50 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1169 read more]]> IMG_9601

As we prepared to set sail for the longest Atlantic stretch, from Bermuda to the western-most island in the Azores, a serious problem was on our minds. Although we were working as crew, and had paid for full room and board, it was abundantly clear that the nourishment provided on board was inadequate. Death had become a serious possibility on the last stretch. And this time things would be worse if we didn’t do something. In response Marc, Angela and I succumbed to the extremely high prices in Bermuda and snuck some snacks aboard.

We started out northbound to catch the trade winds, then curved our way eastward. Day by day I tracked our position as we approached one of the most desolate places in the world. The middle of the ocean is a strange, surreal, and symmetric place. The horizon stretches around to touch itself, like a glassy fun house mirror. You can turn left or right but nothing changes. And you can feel the danger of the waters beneath you – a palpable lurking presence.

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Large predatory fish and mammals tended to follow in our wake, probably because of Gwen’s habit of throwing all of his trash into the sea. We got into a bit of an argument over this issue during our first week at sea, but it was a pointless. Apparently all arguments are trumped by the statement, ‘the captain is always right.’ In spite of this flawless logic, Angela and I, and now Marc, have decided that in the future we will spend some hours picking up garbage on the beach to offset the damage that occurred in our presence. That said, rows of sharp teeth in the shadow of our wake pale in comparison to the fear of falling off – of being stranded in this realm of endless symmetry.

When Nature called, I would stand at the back of the boat with one arm wrapped around the aft starboard cable, imagining what it would be like to be drifting off into the distance. If the waters were calm, and if it was light out, it would be possible to survive if someone knew that I had gone overboard. If nobody heard my initial scream there was very little chance they would hear any screams after that. Even if someone noticed that I was missing a minute or two after I fell off, it would be extremely unlikely that they would ever be able to retrace their path accurately enough to find me. If someone saw me fall off during the day, then I suppose my biggest worry would be sharks (we think Angela snagged a shark with the fishing line). But if it was at night, there was little hope of ever being found. What would it be like to tread water in this place, waiting for the inevitable end? What would it be like to be reduced to a tiny speck in the middle of the ocean, waiting to make your trek to the bottom of the sea? Standing there, swaying back and forth, these thoughts would resonate in my mind.

The middle of the ocean is a place to get in touch with your self in a whole new way. Clouds paint the sky, morphing, absorbing each other, constantly transforming. Sunrises and sunsets come and go with little to no events between them. This slow pace quiets you down enough to see the footsteps of your own journey. It enables you to pull on the threads of your remaining fears, so that you might stand naked in front of the constitution of your hopes and dreams. Immersed in isolation you find an endless well of motivation, but have very few ways of directing it. It is like finding a fountain of youth, making you ripe with enthusiasm and vigor, but being unable to take it with you except for the ways in which it transforms you.

As far away from humanity as I could be, in the middle of the ocean, I found myself sailing into the heart of a rainbow. I reinforced my commitment to chasing my dream, following my passions, and braving the wild unknowns that slowly shape the story of my life.

Thad

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A few days before Bermuda http://beyondatlas.com/a-few-days-before-bermuda/ http://beyondatlas.com/a-few-days-before-bermuda/#comments Tue, 09 Jul 2013 23:53:19 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1168 read more]]> IMG_9699

A few days before reaching Bermuda, Scott decided to leave the boat. A handsome gentleman, with a well worked body that showed definition had become starved and withering. Scott was ready to go back to his splendid life style, where showers, clean drinking water, work out routines and good food were accessible. Thad has lost a lot of muscle mass, and is looking too thin. For me, I wish I had a kilo or two less.

I want to clarify that the boat had food, flour, beans, mixed cans, salt, cookies and some fresh stuff. But all felt far away, in another place. We lived in a place where one was scrutinized in all movements. Felling like you used too much of this, or did too little food, or cleaned the wrong way, or 100 other details. I always had a lot on my mind every time I cooked. The kitchen became a little home of fear where every moment I expected the captain to tell me that I’m doing something wrong. This stress was something that others would not put up with, they preferred starvation over the stress. They needed easy access food. Crackers and things that didn’t require the usage of the gas, water, salt……… There is nothing worse that sharing a life with someone that tells you they are laid back, but are not; someone that has ways of doing things, but doesn’t tell you, that doesn’t give you access to a kitchen but expects you to cook. And it is difficult dealing with strong incompatibility towards the exchange of ideas. It felt as if conversations simply weren’t allowed, unless they were to agree. This trip keeps getting filled with lessons of life.

Angela Arvizu

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Bermuda http://beyondatlas.com/bermuda/ Tue, 09 Jul 2013 23:48:03 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1167 read more]]> IMG_9347

When we sailed within sight of Bermuda we were delighted to see land. For the next seven hours we quietly inched our way towards St. Georges harbor. After surviving a tropical storm it was quite strange for our first step on land to be on the strange netherworld candy-land known as Bermuda.

Bermuda is composed of over 300 islands, strung together by roads, and decorated with pastel colored houses that all have white roofs with diagonal rain catchers on them. The cobblestone and brick roads are mysteriously immaculate. No trash clutters the sides of the roads, and the walkway cracks are magically void of dirt. The minimum wage is over $12 dollars per hour (the Bermuda dollar is equal to value to the US dollar), but everything costs between 2 and 5 times what it would in the states. The locals (including the teenagers) think that $20 for a meal is cheap. There is very low unemployment, and those that live here seem to be laid back, socially entangled, and many of them are protruding a somewhat Jamaican aura – though, without being prompted, they regularly object to any Jamaican connection.

Apparently, at any given time tourists make up about 30% of the island: mostly American, mostly of the extra-large retired type, clamoring to find some nic-nacks to take back home and put on their shelves. They pour in on 5000 passenger cruise ships, in a hurry, wearing brightly colored flower clothes, armed with cheap wind-up water proof cameras and short lived smiles.

Sailboat travelers are definitely in the minority. In our harbor there were about 20 small ships, some anchored, some docked. Those of us anchored had to had to brave the choppy waves and strong winds whenever we wanted to go back or forth to land. Our dingy, of course, was the only one that didn’t have an outboard motor, and its excessive leaks required mouth to dingy resuscitation every time we wanted to use it. This unmidigated disaster, caused by Gwen’s refusal to spend any money whatsoever, led to more than one comical, and somewhat scary tale, which I’ll leave for campfire nights.

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The prettiest gem of Bermuda, the part that I like to remember most, is its beaches. We walked for hours along a particular long stretch of soft sand beaches that were separated by towering spires of volcanic rock. We passed through caves, under tunnels, ran through the sand bars that connected stretches of different beaches between waves, and climbed the rocks to stand in erosion carved arches among the tide pools. The walk ending in Horseshoe bay was one of the best beaches I’ve ever explored. Angela, Scott, and I made almost a whole day out of it.

Scott flew home the next day. Enduring the sailboat any longer would have probably killed him. He had already lost 18 pounds of muscle due to starvation and constant subjection to poison in the water (the captain didn’t consider it necessary to provide clean drinking water). He had also nearly died in tropical storm Andrea, an experience that made him more than ready to start the next chapter of his life. And then, of course, the tension between the captain and everyone else was getting to be far too much to bare.

Scott dealt with Gwen very diplomatically, kindly not mentioning any of the real reasons that he was leaving before reaching Europe, and not asking for any refunded money (although the arrangement originally made between each crew member and Gwen was that we pay so much, but if we change our mind part way then he would refund the proportionate amount). We knew that we were going to miss Scott a lot. His ability to remain patient, and try to see the best in every situation was remarkable. We had bonded with him, talked about the important things on our minds, our dilemmas, our hopes and fears. Plus we had survived Gwen together… I mean crossed the Caribbean and the Atlantic from Panama to Bermuda together.

When Scott arrived on the boat, officially paying more than any other crew member, and after being stood up by the captain for 7 hours after flying from the states to meet him and join the crew, he somehow ended up without a bed (the captain, of course, overbooked). Gwen said “sorry, we are all out of beds, but you can sleep in the kitchen on the bench seat.” When the boat was under sail, being tossed about every which way, it was difficult to stay on a bed, let alone on a bench seat, but Scott, who was used to a fair bit of luxury, said to himself (and later told us) “Well I came on this trip to experience something different.”

With Scott leaving I worried that I wouldn’t be able to survive Gwen’s constant barrage of inconsiderate acts. Thankfully Marc flew in from Utah to join the trek to Europe and to fill the social void. He landed within the same hour that Scott left. The next day I took Marc back to the same stretch of beach. We climbed the entire shoreline of rock, standing in places that very few humans had ever stood before. At the end of the day Marc made note of how much fun we had. Pointing to the quantity of bloody scrapes and cuts he had on his arms and legs, he laughed with confidence that he had earned a new treasured memory. Ahhhh – team death punch never let’s me down.

Gwen insisted that I wire the second half of our agreed upon funds before leaving the island. We had originally agreed half up front, and half when we arrive in France, but he had made up his mind that this was no longer acceptable. Hoping that he would try to be a little more tolerable on the upcoming stretch I consented, even though I didn’t have the necessary money. I felt like something was off, but decided to load up my credit card any way; anything to make the next 15-18 day passage more socially bearable.

Thad

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Triangle, and 2013 tropical storm Andrea http://beyondatlas.com/triangle-and-2013-tropical-storm-andrea/ http://beyondatlas.com/triangle-and-2013-tropical-storm-andrea/#comments Tue, 09 Jul 2013 23:47:20 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1166 read more]]> Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 6.58.35 PM

As a desert person, the sea fascinates me. Staring into the distance of the sea blue beauty and wide horizon brought feelings of desired adventure. Like a 4 year old that stares out the window into a world of unexplored streets, I looked at the sea with adventure in mind. Leaving the last island in the Caribbean, with Bermuda as the destination, the jokes flowed freely. In the magical mind of the world of unknowns the Bermuda triangle full of it’s mysticism was our next destination. As we embarked, we asked the captain about the weather, he said that a few places had strong winds, but there was nothing to be worried about. We continued on. After a few days, we woke up to a beautiful calm sea, nothing was happening, everything was too calm. If I would have known the tale-tale signs I would have been a bit more fearful. The sea taking a breath, before the storm came to us. With no escape, we had to go on and continue our course. The swells increased in size, and the wind started to blow. Scott was staring, and for the first time I saw our captain worried. With 65 knots winds, and the 8 meter swells the sea became unforgiving of mistakes. Unable to consume food, headache and dehydration took its toll. The boat rocked and tilted toward the left, all we could see from the port window was water. The starboard side would display the waves striving to grab us. Scott maneuvered through the waves for hours, as we uncomfortably laughed and made jokes of a blue death. Sometimes making jokes it’s all that is left. The storm subsided the next day. And the sea went back to its choppy self. Unusually under the circumstances, there was no bonding moment with the captain. This might have been the breaking point. Angela Arvizu

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The Bermuda Triangle http://beyondatlas.com/the-bermuda-triangle/ http://beyondatlas.com/the-bermuda-triangle/#comments Fri, 14 Jun 2013 20:00:47 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1157 read more]]> IMG_8212

East of Cape Canaveral we turned eastward in response to weather conditions. The winds had picked up, and seven to ten foot swells were coming on strong, row after row. With our new heading we were pulling 10 knots, sometimes even 13, due to heavy winds and the fact that we were literally surfing the swells. A trail of white foam traced out our path, slowly fading behind the current monstrous wave that we were hopelessly trying to reach the bottom of. Ominous darkness lay dead ahead, weaving blackness together under a moonless night as if some wizard somewhere was waving his arms and practicing his most powerful spell yet. The swells continued to grow, throwing us around to the point that all of us were no longer thinking of moving about. Clutching our nearest secure holds we were all wide eyed, and quiet. Fear began to show its ugly head, yet somewhere in the midst of it, as we sailed straight into the belly of darkness, an odd beauty stayed at our side. I watched in awe, full of mixed feelings, as our phosphorescent surfing trail percolated behind us and then disappeared over the top of the swells. “Shit, Shit,” our captain kept saying as he looked straight ahead. We all knew what that meant. We had to go outside to take down the front sail and reef the main. Splashing water poured over the side of the boat, drenching Angela in her coveted spot, and dousing the cockpit. Her facial expression didn’t change in the slightest. Constant thuds under the hull were slapping us around at will. “The winds are at 30 maybe 35 knots,” Gwen said. If we didn’t drop some cloth soon we wouldn’t ever have to again. It wasn’t raining, but you wouldn’t know it to look at us climbing outside. Angela took the wheel. Usually at this point she would turn a bit upwind to make things easier on us, but all she could do in this situation was wait to hand us the winch handle through the little plexiglass window at the right time, and be ready to throw out a life jacket if one of us got thrown off by a ten foot wave as it engulfed the bow of the ship. Dead ahead was a full-blown tropical storm. All night we slid around the boat, water crashing in, pouring everywhere. Everything was wet, everything was out of place, knives flew around as we rushed to pin them down and put them inside a secure compartment, bruising our knees, elbows, and shoulders as we slammed into walls after sliding across the floor. The wind picked up even more. “Forty knots,” our captain said. “This definitely qualifies as a tropical storm. Let’s hope it doesn’t grow into a hurricane.” There would be no sleeping this night, not a single minute. All we could do was try to eat saltine crackers, sip on ginger ale, and hold on while we tried to remind ourselves to stop holding our breaths. I kept thinking that if we made it to sunrise then we’d be ok. When day broke the only thing that had changed is that now we could see the waves coming at us. They were huge – 25, sometimes 30 feet tall. We watched with white knuckles as we went up and down, constantly in fear of double waves, the ones that would send you straight up, then just as you coming down, pointing either nose down or tipped with one side down, the second wave would come crashing in drowning us in the cockpit. The grey sky was void of any patches of hope. More saltines and ginger ale as we shivered in wrinkled skin. All day long in continued. Just before sunset we started to see small patches of blue sky, and miraculously, a rainbow. I always heard that rainbows were good signs, but never before had it been so personal. Then we noticed something crazy. According to our compass, the thing we had been staring at so intently to get us through this, we were going directly east. But the sun was setting directly at our left. I was pretty sure that even in the Bermuda triangle the sun was supposed to set in the west, but what did I know. We had all heard the ghost stories about compasses acting strangely in the Bermuda triangle, about the rough seas, and about disappearing ships. None of us had put any stock in those particular stories, but now that we were two for three, tropical storm and a northern sunset, we had to worry about what would come next. The next day I stared at our GPS position and noticed that we were tracking north, but the compass said we were going east. Then we found the culprit – a magnetized screwdriver had rolled up under the compass and was interfering with its magnetic field. Whew! Maybe that means we are only one for three and if we are lucky we can just leave it at that.

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The Calm http://beyondatlas.com/the-calm/ http://beyondatlas.com/the-calm/#comments Fri, 14 Jun 2013 19:59:22 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1156 read more]]> DSC00185

Rounding the bottom of Florida, with the lights of Miami to our distant left and the soft glow of Cuba to our right, we got our very first experience of calm waters. The only waves were small ripples that made the surface glassy and smooth as they distorted the sunset clouds into a reflective surrealistic painting. No swells, no rocking back and forth, no calculating how to walk around, or trying to time your steps in time with the up strokes, and no worrying about the boom swinging around and knocking you out. This was a completely new sailing experience. With relatively light winds we ran every possible square foot of cloth up the mast. Afterwards we had the sensation that we were doing about 4 to 4.5 knots. Lucky for us, however, the currents rounding the bottom of Florida were moving at 5 knots in the same direction. So in total we were going 9.5 knots with the smooth sensation of only 4.5 knots. As Miami slowly faded behind us we entertained ourselves by watching the steady flow of cargo ships. We saw more ships that night than any other. Humans… so close, yet still so far away. I’m beginning to fully appreciate the opportunity to be social.

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The Sailor’s Life http://beyondatlas.com/the-sailors-life/ http://beyondatlas.com/the-sailors-life/#comments Fri, 14 Jun 2013 19:50:06 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1153 read more]]> IMG_8978

Ok, a few weeks back Jeff asked to know what the seafarer’s life was like. I usually try my best to share my adventures to inspire others to follow their dreams and expand their horizons. Rarely do I give a glimpse into the regular life activities that make those adventures possible. So here it is – the between the lines every day life for us (at least right now) that is making our adventures possible.

My day usually starts one of two ways. “Thad” a whisper almost entirely overwhelmed by the wind and creaking ship sounds. ”Thad,” again but a loud enough to stir me from my half sleep. “THAD!” “Yeah?” I reply half startled in the awkward position that represents my latest attempt to stop rolling from side to side. “Its your turn.” “Ok, just a minute.” I have to put my contacts in, which is a bit tricky when everything is moving.

The four of us take hour and a half shifts at the helm, which defines the backbone of the nights. During the day the length of the shift is up in the air. Everyone kind of just takes turns until they get sick of being there. If they are listening to their iPod, or if everyone else is busily doing other, less desirable chores, or if they are just trying to be nice, then they might be there for up to 4 hours.

The captain’s chair is relinquished as the person before me jumps out of the chair, which is rather high. Before they leave they give me the update – something like “We’re doing about 5 knots, the course is 30 to 40, but don’t go past 40” (because the sails will start flapping and you’ll lose steering control). And then there is often an external conditions report like, “There’s lightning on our starboard side coming our way but slowly, no ships in the last hour and a half, the swells are getting larger, and there is still no sign of Mr. Feathers.” Then I jump into the chair and begin either a series of small corrections – left and right as I stare at the glowing red compass, or wild turns hard left, flexing my muscles to hold it, then suddenly hard right.

From inside the cockpit I can’t see much at night. The glass is tinted enough to fade out all interesting data. The wheel goes four complete revolutions from hard left to hard right. It is plain aluminum with a diameter of about 3 feet. Because it is far away from the chair I usually cycle between steering with my feet when things are relatively smooth, with my hands when they require fairly dedicated concentration, or standing up when the world is coming to an end and you’re steering everyone directly to it.

Here’s the regular alternative. “Thad,” whispered just above the wind and creaky noises. “Got it,” I quickly reply. I’m up and totally ready to have an excuse to do something. I already have my contacts in because it was impossible to take them out while being violently tossed about in my cabin. The entire vessel is leaning at about 40 degrees to one side, rocking, shaking, throwing us all around like we were in a dryer. Unable to lay in the bed (I’ve been practically standing on the wall for hours) I slide down the wall and brace myself with all fours as I try to get through the little cut out doorway, which has razor sharp edges. Up the four stairs to the cockpit I walk more with my hands than my feet, which are only there to stop me when I slide across the room. The compass is dancing back and forth, turning to one side, than the other, but not rotating on its axis much. As I sit there in the fancy chair, tilted to one side, I feel like a blind person on a rollercoaster that only turns one way. I can’t see the waves coming so they all catch me by surprise.

I look on my phone, on the SEAiq Open program (thanks Jeff for helping me set that up – it is awesome!!) and check where we are, our current speed, and start fantasizing about the next location. Dropping anchor means a good night of sleep – usually. Everywhere we’ve stopped so far has been fascinating, strange, and completely new to me. It is amazing to think that we are sailing the Caribbean and are going to cross the Atlantic, following the same route that Columbus, and Drake took, learning little details about the passes, small islands, the sea life, the ocean currents, the winds, discovering some of the secrets about Nature that Blackbeard surely knew, and seeing spectacular sunsets.

We now know about little places in the middle of the ocean that have “almost islands.” Many ships have hit bottom in these places, turning them into shipwreck graveyards. We now know what its like to sail around a cape, with lighthouses in the distance trying to warn you, with the currents all mixing about, creating waves with random amplitudes and huge swells, as we fight against the wind. And with each passing day we relate more and more to the timeless human plight of deeply missing the world that you used to think of as ‘normal.’

One useful thing to know is that sailing downwind is a completely different monster than sailing upwind. Going upwind means more violent conditions because you are going against the swells, which shortens their effective wavelength and making them feel much stronger. Going with the swells is wonderful. That’s the best time to sleep. The entire ship smoothly goes up and down, up and down. It practically rocks you to sleep – so long as you are properly braced for that random wave. If we are going downwind, and the wind is relatively light, then we use the spinnaker, which is rather like half of a colorful hot air balloon. Otherwise we put out our main sail and a genoa (we have two different sizes), and sometimes we even put up a third sail called a cutter between the two.

When the winds suddenly pick up we have to rush outside like someone threw a grenade on deck and we have to toss it off before we die. First we drop the sails, pulling the cloth in as it falls. This task sounds simple, but when the ship is tossing side to side, simply standing can require more skill than you can muster. Then we untie the sail (three ropes attached) switch it out for another, retie the new one and then begin hoisting. It is important to use the right knots – the bowline has become my favorite. The ability to untie a knot is just as important as its ability to remain secure. Being stuck on the deck with cloth and rope flapping around while you are trying to untie your knot is an easy way to get hurt.

One person wraps the rope around the winch a couple of times and hoists until they can’t any more, then the other person inserts the winch handle and begins tightening to assist them. All the while teeth stay clenched and mouths stay closed because the two ropes tied to the bottom of the genoa are whipping around in the sky. If you get hit in the teeth with your mouth open it might break one of them – or so we’ve been told. We haven’t tested this claim out yet – plenty of time left for that.

In order to get a good picture of how chaotic this can all be, imagine all of those details, add rain, and enough wind that you can’t hear other people yelling at you from five feet away, remember the constant tossing of the boat, visualize the surfaces that are covered in salt crystals that you have to sit on to balance yourself as you pull ropes, and of course, imagine that everyone is in their underwear (or swimming suits). Its quite an exercise.

At the other extreme, calm conditions can be just as life changing as regular near death experiences. At night there always seems to be lightning somewhere on the horizon. When the moon is gone the plankton light up our wake, sometimes we can see stars, meteors and their reflections on the water, distant lighthouse flashes, all while the boat is caressed by the water beneath.

When the moon is out it keeps you company and makes you start to think about how different the world feels. We are sailing at an average of 3-7 knots. (A knot is about 1.1 miles.) The fastest we have pulled for a brief moment (according to our GPS) is 12.5 knots. 7 knots feels really fast on the ship. I walk at about 4 knots per hour on land, and I run at about 8.25 knots. For some reason it feels really strange to realize that we are going from Panama, to Columbia, to the Cayman Islands, around Cuba, through the Bahamas, to Bermuda, the Azores, then Portugal, Spain and France all at a speed that I can do on foot. It makes the world feel completely different to me. It even makes the stars feel a little closer.

The food situation on board is quite bad – which makes me sympathize with the sailors of old. Our captain insists on doing all of the shopping for some reason. He is French and fancies himself a good cook. He probably is, but we don’t currently have many ingredients in our kitchen that I recognize, and even less that my stomach is ok with. It turns out that on a boat I become much much more picky about what I eat. The gallon of rotten, unrefrigerated mayo makes me gag with just a little wiff. Gwen likes to toss a cup or two of that into everything he makes except coffee, which I don’t care for anyway. It is quite difficult to have anything more than a snack on the boat. Gwen happily cooks elaborate meals, throwing together some cyan, some stink dust, mayo, vegetables that now support their own ecosystem, etc. I just can’t do it.

When conditions are real smooth I can go downstairs and cook a soup, but that is about as complicated as I want. When things aren’t rough, I honestly find myself willing to wait hours for them to calm down while starving rather than trying to go in that kitchen. Nothing gets you seasick faster than trying to stir a pot on the stove without being able to see out, while the whole ship gets tossed side to side. The stove swings about, keeping its surface relatively level, but from the reference frame of the boat it really looks like it is tossing around. That’s because in the kitchen we REALLY get thrown around when the waves are bad. Once, while trying to do dishes, I had my foot half way up the far wall to support myself. The water in the sink started spilling on the floor (that’s how steep we were slanted). Being subjected to those motions, while trying to perform a concentration task (not drop the dishes and break them and somehow get them clean and safely put away before throwing up) is something I will avoid from now on at all costs. For now I’m perfectly fine eating a piece of bread and fantasizing about some of Angela’s enchiladas, Jeff’s turkey and potato dinners, or delightful restaurant experiences with Elaine and Phil.

The bathroom experience is worth mentioning. First off, it is awesome having a bathroom again. After living out of Wiggles for four months, having a bathroom right there all the time is quite nice. It has a mirror, a flushing toilet, which actually dumps directly into the water, and a sink. That’s the good stuff. The bad stuff is that somehow gas leaked into our water tank, so using the water to wash your hands is kind of counterproductive. You just end up smelling like gas afterwards. The pump on the toilet works, kind of. Sometimes it takes a bit of working on, and let me tell you, you don’t want to be down there in that cramped little space, trying to get things to go down while the whole ship is tossing about. You really don’t want that!

Showers are worth a note too. This boat has a shower, but it doesn’t work. So, instead we fill up a camp shower, like the one we had in Wiggles, from the kitchen sink. The bad parts are that that water comes from the same tank as the bathroom sink, so showering is really pointless. Still, after a few days we all break down, toss a bucket overboard, rinse with saltwater naked on the side of the ship, soap up, (the soap acts strangely with saltwater) rinse as much as we can, then use the diesel/water bag to rinse off. Then we tie the shower bag back off so it doesn’t get tossed with the next wave. The showerhead is missing, so the rinses aren’t quite as fancy as they were with Wiggles, but that’s no big deal. If we ever find out how to stop the gas leak, and can get a fresh water rinse, so our soap actually works, ahhhhhh that will be nice. On the plus side, whenever we push right through a heavy rainstorm we get a perfect opportunity to take a delightful shower. Rain-showers are wonderful experiences.

In our cabin we have our own little fan!!! I love that fan! Angela and I bought it before we left Panama. We unscrewed the light in our cabin and spliced the wires to power the fan too, which we mounted on the ceiling. When things get too hot we can always go down there and at least evaporate. That’s my little piece of sanity.

I hope that gives you a good idea what the seafarer’s life is like. There are many details that make each day unique that I haven’t included. For example, the other day we ran into a pod of dolphins that were eager to show off. Several of them had fancy jumping tricks. Mother child pairs loved to race alongside the front of our boat. It lasted for about 10 minutes. This happened in the middle of nowhere with no land in sight. The flying fish are thinning out now. I suppose they are more common in the south (where they were literally visible every second of the day). We’ve seen a few turtles coming to the surface for some air and every now and then, and when we are anchored, we sometimes get startled by a large splashing sound of an entire school of fish all touching the surface in sync and then rush back down.

Reading and writing are far more difficult to accomplish at sea than I anticipated. The capture the wind just right we seem to need to be constantly trimming the sails, taking down or putting up reefs, and making small adjustments. It is a life of rope, knots, cleats, compasses, winds, motion, and a large helping of randomness. I’m really glad to be getting this experience and I’m really looking forward to finding my way back spending time with all my friends and loved ones left behind. Wish us luck on the crossing. And please send messages. I really miss communication with you all!!

Loves,

Thad

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Sting Ray City http://beyondatlas.com/sting-ray-city/ Fri, 14 Jun 2013 14:07:11 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1142 read more]]> Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 6.30.10 PM

To visit Sting Ray City we sailed around to the north side of the island, dropped anchor about 50 meters from the reef, and then began swimming to the coveted spot. The reef was more decorated with life than any other reef I’ve ever seen. There were ink fish, barracuda, turtles, fat face fish, schools of flat black fish, pencil fish, dozens of different brightly colored fish, and of course, sting rays.

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15 minutes later we were at the right spot, marked by two boats floating above. On the seafloor there was a pack of SCUBA divers sitting cross legged in a circle and holding out small portions of food. The Rays would come right up to the divers and glide over them, making contact with them as if they were polished marble. Holding my breath I joined the SCUBA divers and caught the attention of the rays. I joined their delicate dance and then almost screamed in excitement (and a little fear) as they began to glide all over me. Their dorsal sides were hard with almost spiny backbone regions. And their white underside was soft and squishy with cute little mouths that seemed to smile.

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One rather large ray climbed Gwen and then tried to sit on him like a hat. It was quite amusing. For about a half an hour we went up and down, holding our breath and playing with these wondrous sea creatures. Then it was back out into the great unknown where the horizon becomes indistinguishable in every direction.

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Mr. Feathers http://beyondatlas.com/mr-feathers/ http://beyondatlas.com/mr-feathers/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 20:38:55 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1129 read more]]> DSC06745

A couple of hours before sunset, 200 knots north of Columbia, which is about as far away from land as you can get in this stretch of the Caribbean, something special happened. An extremely exhausted, about to give up on life, pigeon landed on our boat. He was so tired that once he landed he didn’t have the energy to move away from us as we approached, even though he was surely afraid. We gave him some space for a while, then tried to feed him. He didn’t eat, but when we raised the lid of a water bottle next to his beak he drank it with vigor, and then six more.

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For 15 hours that little pigeon stood on the console right next to the big steering wheel, blinking, and watching us take our shifts. We fed him bread and water as many times as he would take them. Then, finally, he started to get his energy back. A day later he was following us around everywhere, jumping on our arms and shoulders and staring into our faces when he wanted more food or water, walking on the keyboard whenever Gwen pulled up our navigation charts, and pooping. We thought he would fly away as soon as he had the strength to, but it was clear there was a bond there. Scott and I didn’t mind repeatedly throwing the bucket overboard and then pulling it back up to wash and scrub Mr. Feathers’ mess off the deck. We needed Mr. Feathers – probably a little more than he needed us.

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When we got to the Cayman Islands we tried to encourage Mr. Feathers to go to land because the French man was talking a little too much about cooking him. We shooed him, but he came right back. We all stood on different sides of the boat and waved our arms as he flew about, but he just kept circling, looking for a spot to land. Then finally he turned away, but instead of going to shore he landed on the nearest boat and watched us. Two days later, just before we pulled up anchor, we saw Mr. Feathers fly to shore. We didn’t see any other pigeons in the Cayman Islands, so we assume that he will eventually be moving on. We were both happy to see Mr. Feathers safely on land, and sad to say goodbye to a friend that did so much for our smiles. In all the time we knew him he never made a sound. He just blinked at us and made us guess what he was thinking. We were happy to talk for him. Thanks for everything Mr. Feathers!

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Shade http://beyondatlas.com/shade/ Thu, 23 May 2013 18:14:43 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1126 read more]]> Costa Rica The hottest week of year is upon us, landing hard on our sweat glands. The heat takes shape on the hot pavement, like a mirror being elevated to the sky to remind you of the sun’s power. Around us, date palm trees mocking the heat and your senses by displaying human alined trunks of more than a meter width. Above them, the 4 + meter long leaves create an inviting shade. Unnatural and beautiful, and at the moment impossible to reach by wiggles. Longing for shade while surrounded by it is a new experience for me. Angela Arvizu

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A crabby experience http://beyondatlas.com/a-crabby-experience/ http://beyondatlas.com/a-crabby-experience/#comments Thu, 23 May 2013 18:01:36 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1127 read more]]> Walking on sandy beaches is always a pleasure, your feet touching the usually pleasurable coldness that comes with the sea. Feeling good and healthy Thad and I decided to go on a run, the sun was strong, within a few minutes we were drenched with our sweat, pushing our bodies, we continued on. The sun was burning the sole of our feet, attempting to cool them off we would approach the water, only to find out that it was boiling hot. Coming back towards the camp we slowed down and started walking, suddenly I found myself screaming with my leg raised up, and jumping up and down with the other one. There it was, the little crab holding my big toe, screaming along with me. My leg waved furiously from side to side finally he let go and fell, he promptly shut up and buried himself in the sand. Yes, I had a crabby experience. Angela Arvizu

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Costa Rica http://beyondatlas.com/costa-rica/ Thu, 23 May 2013 18:00:18 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1125 read more]]> Costa Rica Smooth road and palm trees, introduced the visual numbness of green, identifying it as nature. The time passed and from the road, I see a factory in the distance blowing smoke. The new visual input provided an alternative mental set of emotional states. The dislike of industrialization and pollution brought strong feelings of disapproval, humans destroying the world. As we approached the factory, the sweet smell of date production overwhelm my olfactory sensors, changing my already bipolar mental state to one of smell infused desire to inhale more of the sweet smoke. Delight was heard from 5 expressive mouths in the car. The drive continued on the well paved road, with perfectly aligned palm trees, the numbing feeling of nature, created by man. Angela Arvizu

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The San Blas Islands http://beyondatlas.com/the-san-blas-islands/ http://beyondatlas.com/the-san-blas-islands/#comments Fri, 17 May 2013 05:18:24 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1118 read more]]>
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The San Blas Islands are an amazing collection of over 400 small palm tree islands surrounded by beautiful choral and sea life. While there we say a reef shark, several rays, explored a couple of sunken ships, saw a ship become wrecked on the choral, watched a lightning storm, cleaned the barnacles off of the hull, found coconuts, were sold lobster from locals that moved around on hand carved canoes, swam all around, and saw the biggest sea stars I’ve every seen. We call them dinosaur sea stars J. This place is one of the world’s best kept secrets.

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First Watch http://beyondatlas.com/first-watch/ http://beyondatlas.com/first-watch/#comments Fri, 17 May 2013 05:09:54 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1116 read more]]>

After the sails finally went up we set our course from Colon towards the San Blas Islands. Angela and I had our first watch from 10:00 pm to midnight. We had timed our departure so that we would arrive at the San Blas islands just after sunrise. This would allow us to use dead reckoning to dodge the shallow rocks and choral reefs. Everything started out serene. Angela sat at the wheel, following the big red compass like a video game. Left, right, hard left, slowly back right, there was no end to the corrections that were needed. I sat on the side of the ship looking out, watching for little lights on the horizon that warned of oncoming ships. The stars were absolutely brilliant making it easy to trace out the patches of dark clouds. In the distance, straight ahead, silent lightning flashes lit up the sky. Phosphorescent plankton sparkled blue and green in our wake. Even though the stars were brilliant directly above us, it was strangely very dark. The water had a dark pull to it. If our instruments were correct the waters were more than a mile deep. It already felt like an adventure, like we were on a star ship, setting out to explore what lay beyond the horizon. Rocking side to side, up and down, we were in a soothing trance, caressed by the rhythm of Nature. In the distance small lights appeared, red and white. This meant that they were passing to our left and were not on a collision course. If they were heading straight for us we would see red, green and white. Slowly the cargo ship trailed off to the left. After the first hour the waves began to become excited. The rocking gained amplitude and began to become a bit violent. Then it became even more violent. Very quickly we learned all about what the local seamen call ‘chicken assholes’ – a term they use to describe when the sky falls down on you and the ocean tries to throw it back up. Our whole ship was tossed and turned around so much that the mast went from almost touching one side of the water to the other side in only a couple of seconds. The rain was pouring down and thunder cracked all around us. The waves were far taller than we were, meaning that there wasn’t a chance in hell that we’d see an oncoming ship. Steering seemed pointless too. Our captain, Gwen, who only sleeps with one eye at a time, jumped up from his bed the second the chicken asshole started dumping on us. He was out on the deck being thrown back and forth, barefoot, wearing only a swimming suit, taking down the sails so we wouldn’t be decorating the sea floor tonight. When he came back in the cabin, soaking wet, he laughed at Angela and me because the terror on our faces was more than obvious. After about 20 minutes of this, the chicken asshole stopped as quickly as it started. My stomach was sick, but somehow I had avoided throwing up. When our shift was over we went into our cabin and fell right asleep. If another chicken asshole hit us as least we wouldn’t be driving J.

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The Lake in the Canal http://beyondatlas.com/the-lake-in-the-canal/ Fri, 17 May 2013 05:07:43 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1113 read more]]>

Most of the Panama Canal is actually a freshwater lake. Spending the night fastened to a mooring was delightful. As soon as the ship was secure we began diving into the waters, climbing back up the rickety ladder onto the boat, scrubbing ourselves down with soap, and diving again. It took four rounds until I felt completely clean. There were crocodiles in the water, but we were told that it wasn’t eating season. Still, when the sun went down we got out of the water. Before that happened we happily busied ourselves cleaning the boat. Throwing a five gallon bucket overboard with a rope attached, pulling it back up, and poring the fresh water as others scrubbed the deck. It felt good to make our new home clean. As twilight worked it magic, a meteor shower in progress, we set up an outdoor movie theater on the deck. What a strange yet comfortable feeling to be watching Aliens vs. Predator in the middle of this lake. I think I will always remember that night.

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The Panama Canal http://beyondatlas.com/the-panama-canal/ http://beyondatlas.com/the-panama-canal/#comments Tue, 14 May 2013 22:39:45 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1111 read more]]>

Going through the Panama Canal was amazing. I hope these time lapses that we took relate some of its majesty to you. Watch the huge doors that close around the ship, and then watch how fast the locks fill up, raising the ships by 20-25 feet. We went up three locks, then spent hours motoring through the lake (they don’t allow you to sail in the canal). If you can motor 8 knots or faster you can make it through the locks in one day. We only pulled about 4 knots so we got to spend the night on the lake. That was the best part of the trip, but I’ll save that for the next post. All in all we went up 85 feet, and the next day we went back down those 85 feet (plus another 8 inches – the difference between heights of the Pacific and Atlantic). Now that we are in the Atlantic, the fact that we are going to cross its entirety is feeling much more real. I can only imagine what adventure and insights await. The last time Einstein crossed this ocean it was in a small ship and he got caught in a storm that he thought was going to kill him. In those apparently final moments he went below deck and wrote that he had come in touch with his “magnificent insignificance.” What a beautiful phrase.

Until next time,

Loves,

Thad

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Panama Canal http://beyondatlas.com/panama-canal/ Wed, 24 Apr 2013 19:11:53 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1092

Seconds pass across the Panama Canal, no warning was given, no signs on the road, no outlook for enthusiastic tourists and no pedestrian cross way. For the locals, this is just a passage to work, home and life.

Angela Arvizu

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Impressions: Costa Rica http://beyondatlas.com/impressions-costa-rica/ http://beyondatlas.com/impressions-costa-rica/#comments Fri, 19 Apr 2013 07:24:17 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1044 read more]]> IMG_2775

These are my personal impressions of Costa Rica. They are highly subjective and the product of reflection well after the fact. I have been to many countries in my life and often try to create an abridged, condensed recollection of those places. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful all weigh in, being synthesized into a sort of scenario.

Costa Rica must be viewed along two dimensions, the first, the economic dimension, the second, the environmental dimension. Both of those dimensions can then be split into three parts, thus, from my experience there are nine Costa Rican permutations (I’ll leave the subtleties of those permutations aside). This sounds a little complicated, but Costa Rica warrants it.

Firstly, the economic dimension: there are the poor, the middle class and the tourists.

The poor are much like the poor in Nicaragua ostensibly but don’t seem to have the downtrodden mentality that their “friends” to the North have (Costa Rica, apparently, does not view Nicaragua favorably, as the US does not view Mexico favorably). There is a pride to the people, they care about their appearance, they try to look good. They may be poor but they give a shit about their surroundings. Their lots are not covered with trash. They may be living in what we would call tin shacks, but they are neat and tidy. They do not look upon foreigners with distrust or disdain – they may not be overly friendly, but they are not overly antagonistic either.

The middle class seem to be much like the middle class of America, though not nearly as wealthy. They are friendly and talkative and helpful. They have radiant smiles, are well groomed and would not look out of place in America at all. They form the majority of the people any tourist would deal with.

Then, there are the tourists… they range from the hippie, through the backpacker, to the aged, to the opulent. They are mostly American and form a significant portion of the population of the country at any given time. Costa Rica is a tourist Mecca, plain and simple.

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The tourist trade has shaped Costa Rica, for good or ill, to a very deep level. If you stay on the beaten path, in your tour bus, you can have all your American comforts, if you stray from that, you still can live quite comfortably but will not see as many hallmarks of corporate America. I think it fair to say that Costa Ricans have formed a comfortable détente with their many visitors, both people and corporations, which informs any impression of Costa Rica to a large extent.

Aside from the problems Wiggles had getting into the country, the authorities have a very hands off approach to foreigners. The infrastructure of the country is quite good. All the telephone poles have fiber optics on them. The cell coverage is excellent – much better than the United States. There are schools everywhere. The main roads even have reflectors and government installed signs that are mostly accurate. The secondary and mountain roads however are VERY treacherous. If you go there and rent a car make damn sure it’s a four wheel drive with some clearance. If you’re caught in a rain storm on a mountain road, you’re somewhere between stuck until the road dries out or at the bottom of a 300 foot cliff in a smoldering pile of twisted metal – seriously!

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As for the environmental dimension, any given area seems to be in one of three states.

Firstly, “untouched” Nature abounds. It can be found just about anywhere in the country, with caveats. The national parks are first class, not exactly US first class, but first class nonetheless from an ecological standpoint. The beauty you can find there is breathtaking. The mountains, the volcanos, the rainforests and the beaches are truly splendid. You can pay someone to show it to you, or you can go it alone.

Adventure tourism seems to have hit Costa Rica in a big way. How much of an actual adventure you’ll get from any given company remains to be seen, but our experience there is that they deliver on their promises. Do not expect it to be cheap because it most certainly will not be. Someone there said that Costa Rica was the fifty-first state of the US, referring to prices. So be prepared to spend for the fancy stuff.

Then there is the behind the scenes kind of area. These are primarily deforested areas. There are vast expanses of Costa Rica that have no trees. That is not the natural state there. The beautiful rollings hills with green grass and cows and whatnot are completely unnatural, though still beautiful and well kept. There are also large plantations of palms, bananas, etc. Costa Rica seems to have learned early enough though to preserve at least some of its natural wonders from the slash and the burn.

Then there are the urban, tourist and industrial areas. There are signs everywhere saying “for sale” – in English, with prices in US Dollars. San Jose is a sprawling hodgepodge of slums, resort hotels, middle class houses, modern buildings and US chains. Large industry has carved out niches here and there in the country as well. To compare it to the United States as a whole based on land use percentages seems unfair because of Costa Rica’s small size, but it “feels” like more of Costa Rica has been preserved than in the US, though that is undoubtably untrue.

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When I think of Costa Rica, I think of natural beauty in an awkward but possibly sustainable balance. The people have not sold their souls completely to America, but may. The land has not been completely subsumed by greed, both foreign and domestic, but may. Costa Rica has an optimism to it, an effortless sophistication, while maintaining its wild banana republic feel. I truly hope its optimism isn’t an opiate allowing a slide into Nature confabulated onto the balance sheets of American chain hotels and rich retirees’ gated estates.

Jeff Chapple

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Impressions: Nicaragua http://beyondatlas.com/impressions-nicaragua/ http://beyondatlas.com/impressions-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 19 Apr 2013 03:14:50 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1024 read more]]> IMG_2607

These are my personal impressions of Nicaragua. They are highly subjective and the product of reflection well after the fact. I have been to many countries in my life and often try to create an abridged, condensed recollection of those places. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful all weigh in, being synthesized into a sort of scenario.

Nicaragua is poor, really poor. Nary a multinational corporation has planted its flag there, for good or ill. The country has a feel of victimization, like a dog that’s been mistreated and then will either cower or growl at a passerby. While the people themselves were friendly enough, welcoming is not something I would classify them as. The land has been ravaged to a large degree. The deforestation is quite profound. Many of the lakes have been tainted to the point of being unusable. Garbage is EVERYWHERE. It is not hyperbole to say that every square meter of untended land has at least one piece of plastic trash on it, primarily plastic shopping bags. There are millions upon millions of them. They are everywhere. Fires burn day and night on the steep hillsides. I don’t know if they are set purposefully or accidentally, but they smell of destruction, they smell of burning plastic.

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Managua, the capital, is shabby and run-down. Its public buildings crumbling remnants of some bygone glory day. Ironically, the airport sparkles by comparison – that first impression quickly disavowed by the rest of the city. Its police harass both locals and foreigners incessantly, extorting bribes unabashedly. There seems to be little pride in anything. I suppose that’s a luxury the population cannot afford or cannot muster. I do not know the full history of the country, but it feels like it has been taken advantage of in many ways and by many groups over many eras. By far, the nicest building to be found in the city is the American Embassy. Its reflective windows and marble facades gleam mockingly, purched on a hill away from the dust, dirt and flaking paint of downtown. Its manicured gardens an insult to the natives passing by. Managua seems a haunted place, haunted by a past I do not know, but afraid to cast off that past and surge forward.

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The beaches the natives go to are crowded and vibrant, but there is the ever-present garbage washing up amongst their feet, ignored. There is a sense of resignation hanging in the air, of defeat – eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. The more remote beaches, the ones the natives don’t visit in significant numbers, are cleaner and almost wild, sporadically harboring small tourist outposts at the ends of treacherous dirt roads, footholds for vagabond Americans and Europeans.

As you move south towards Costa Rica, the country changes, with every passing kilometer the ghosts of the past begin to dissolve. The people smile more. The roadside trash thins. The land greens. The trees begin to reclaim the horizon. Someone there said that Nicaragua wants to be the next Costa Rica. If that is indeed the case, Nicaragua has a monumental battle to wage against the scars of its past, both physical and psychological. When I think of Nicaragua, I feel a sadness, a paradise lost.

Jeff Chapple

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OK, I’m a Wimp. http://beyondatlas.com/ok-im-a-wimp/ http://beyondatlas.com/ok-im-a-wimp/#comments Thu, 18 Apr 2013 20:28:23 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=974 read more]]> DSC02659

Let me clearly state: I am a wimp. Camping is not an activity that is super high on my list of things to do, camping in the jungle and on the beach even less so. Nature is dirty and constantly trying to kill me. Someone should really clean Nature up… I mean, there’s dirt EVERYWHERE. So, after several weeks being au naturale, I think some observations are in order.

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Firstly, bathrooms, real bathrooms, with water and porcelain and soap and toilet paper and walls and doors, are REALLY, REALLY great. I cannot over emphasize that. THEY ARE GREAT! While it is possible to “take care of business” without one, it’s just not the same. You can do your damnedest out in the wild to successfully achieve the principle goal, but there will always be some sort of problem, sometimes minor, sometimes major. I will spare you the gory details.

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Secondly, showers, any sort of shower, even a garden hose, are likewise amazing. Since Nature is so dirty and sticky and salty and sandy and oily and dusty and sweaty, having a good fresh water cleanse is so much more than a trivial luxury. It is virtually impossible to sleep when you are covered with salt and sweat and sand. Again, I’m a wimp, but I stand by my assertion. My first item, the simple bathroom, coincidently can, in a pinch double as a shower. I just recommend that it has a locking door as not to offend the natives. (A trip to the local Walmart subsidiary, pictured above, and using the facilities therein raised a few eyebrows when the “showers” started…)

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I never thought I would appreciate America’s contribution to world culture in the ways I did. McDonald’s has mediocre, but consistent food worldwide. I have been to this de facto American embassy many times around the world, particularly when feeling a little homesick. These little trips “home” have usually been while staying in a city and therefore I didn’t realize the subtler aspects of these visits. First of all, McDonald’s believes strongly in climate control. Air conditioning is indeed a luxury, a luxury I now appreciate much more. Ice that you can actually eat is also in that category. Free WiFi service (while being A/C’d) as well as great bathrooms is likewise a potent combination – the WiFi network was charmingly named “McInternet”.

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While I never felt particularly in danger during the trip, aside from traveling some rather hair-raising mountain roads, the sign above being posted outside a fairly upscale grocery store did not instill confidence. Culture shock on my part? Perhaps.

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But, when it all becomes too much, for a not-so-small fee, you can take a vacation from the vacation. I highly recommend splurging every now and then and dipping your toes in the sterile chlorine water. Having amenities at your fingertips can transform, invigorate and give you the energy to dive back into the dusty, salty, sandy, sweaty, sticky oiliness of Nature. That at least is the opinion of this wimp.

Jeff Chapple

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The Night of Magic Light http://beyondatlas.com/the-night-of-magic-light/ http://beyondatlas.com/the-night-of-magic-light/#comments Fri, 12 Apr 2013 22:09:12 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1099 read more]]> DSC04566

My favorite night in Costa Rica started as we parked along a pristine shoreline, out of sight of any other humans, ten feet from the high tide line, between palm trees. We stretched out our hammocks, opened cocoanuts with the axe that Phil gave us, and then ate cocoanut until we couldn’t eat any more. As the sun went down, painting the sky in hues of pink and orange, Dave and Jeff started a fire on the sand and I walked down the beach to see if the rumors of fresh water showers were true. They were!! About a half a mile away, in the trees was a little outpost with an external working shower and it was free!! I took a long shower and then started walking back to our little perfect camping spot. In the distance I could see the glimmering fire, announcing where my loved ones were, and reflecting off of the shallow film of water over the sand.

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Above the constellations were twinkling at a slant that made it impossible to forget how far south I was, and to the South dry lightning flashes lit up distant clouds. On top of this fire flies and the fascinating beatle with two glowing spots that lives in these parts flashed like little sparks in the trees. I walked slowly, letting my eyes dilate, catching the reflection of the constellations off the water and waiting to see a second falling star. Then I noticed something strange, something tantalizing. For the first time in my life I noticed that my footprints were actually among the stars. The water beneath my feet was reflecting the stars above, something else was going on. Every time I stepped on the sand little lights shimmered beneath my feet – bioluminescent plankton! I became excited to make it back to the fire to share this discovery with my companions, but before I made it back I noticed something else. The crashing waves were lighting up too. It was unmistakable. Every time the waves churned up the water a bright swirling ribbon of blue light danced on the water.

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After hearing the excitement in my voice Angela ran out into the water with me. We swam into deeper waters and laughed as our hands and feet completely lit up as we moved. It was magical. In the shadow of the crashing waves, we stood in the warm water in awe of Nature and its wonders.

Thad Roberts

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Tourist Trap http://beyondatlas.com/tourist-trap/ http://beyondatlas.com/tourist-trap/#comments Wed, 10 Apr 2013 21:45:15 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=997 read more]]> If there is a constant in the Universe, it is that where there are tourists, there will be tourist traps. The Costa Rican variety seems to be centered on frogs. These charming attention-drawing concrete advertisements just begged to be photographed (and abused, those pictures, the “explicit” ones, I’ll skip – yes we had our way with the concrete frogs.)

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Our first character is not actually a frog, but rather a toad. The mascot for Toad Hall (a la Disney’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), a combo restaurant, bar, hotel, liquor store and gift shop. The proprietors of such places tend to cover all the bases and they are quite numerous in Costa Rica. Toad Hall was actually quite nice and the American couple that own it were very gracious. Their hotel rooms were very beautiful and luxurious. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a little luxury in the Arenal region. The rate was approximately $150 per day for a large “villa” that slept six with multiple bathrooms, a nice living room and full kitchen. The infinity pool was very lovely too.

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Our next concrete monstrosity sits humbly outside a “ranario”, or frog museum. Thad got some excellent pictures therein, using Aubrey and Angela as lighting technicians with their LED headlamps to get things just right. Here is one of the photos. I’ll leave it to Thad to post the rest.

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OK, I can’t resist… just one explicit photo. I apologize, really, really I do. The roadside concrete frog (toad, whatever) anti-defamation league should send their hate letters and death threats to me directly and hold Angela and Thad et al blameless. It was early… I hadn’t had my coffee. Also in my defense, I was fully clothed. I generally do not prance around naked in public plus or minus 4 to 6 hours into and out of the daylight, I’m old fashioned that way. But, as the saying goes, if you build it, they will come. (Hangs head in shame.)

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Ah, sweet, sweet sanity bringing coffee, sadly a little too late for Mr. Toad (frog, whatever) – the damage is done, the therapy bills accrue, the criminal prosecution ensues.

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Jeff Chapple

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Rainforest Reverie http://beyondatlas.com/jungle-creek-reverie/ Tue, 09 Apr 2013 21:08:30 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=984 read more]]> IMG_2726

This afternoon, after Dave and I spent the day lounging in Santa Alena while Angela, Aubrey and Thad went waterfall repelling, we hiked up a little stream just off the road in Monteverde, Costa Rica’s renowned cloud forest. This was my first trek into what could seriously be considered rainforest. The short version: amazing!

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The thing that struck me first was an overwhelming sense of life – everything was alive. The chaos of green hit me at a very deep visceral level. There was something absolutely familiar yet alien with the whole scene. I felt as though I had tapped into some long forgotten genetic memory from hundreds of thousands of years ago. I was quite surprised to find that I felt completely at home, or more to the point, that I had finally returned home.

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The creek itself was little more that a trickle, forming pools when stopped up by the numerous decaying trees and smooth round boulders. The air was thick and steamy, filled with strange calls presumably from birds both near and far. The palpability of the atmosphere was extraordinary. I have never felt so entwined in the fabric of Nature. The ants (goddamn them), the mosses, the tadpoles, the lichens, the uncountable trees, vines, ferns and brush breathing in silent sighs with the infrequent breeze. The rainforest is a mystical, spiritual place.

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As I blazed the trail for the group (yes, me the Nature-phobe lead the way), time stopped, calm descended into what I might call my soul. Scrambling up the boulders, sinking in the soft mud at the sides of the small pools, grasping vines as ropes, a profound quiet fell and I realized in a way I never had before just how amazing life is, how precious and miraculous it is. The glints of sunlight gently raining through the dense canopy made diamonds of the water and emeralds of leaves, sapphires of the flowers – treasures beyond measure.

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Jeff Chapple


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Wear Sunscreen, Really! http://beyondatlas.com/wear-sunscreen-really/ Sun, 07 Apr 2013 05:06:19 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1071 I think this picture says it all. WEAR SUNSCREEN! ‘Nuf said.

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Jeff Chapple

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Llanos Del Cortez http://beyondatlas.com/llanos-del-cortez/ Sat, 06 Apr 2013 22:09:50 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=1006 read more]]> IMG_2653

Llanos del Cortez is a beautiful waterfall in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. It’s a little difficult to find, but asking the locals working the fruit stands on the Pan American Highway by Bagaces will get you fairly precise directions with only a couple of false positives – which is better than usual. Admission is a donation to a local school and it’s open from 8 am to 5 pm. There is a large area behind the waterfall that you can reach either through the waterfall (which is somewhat challenging to do) or from the side.

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This is the first waterfall I’ve been to in many years and its power was quite surprising to me. As you swim up to the front of the waterfall, the spray and wind are blinding (you might want to bring swim goggles). Standing under the waterfall was at some times actually painful. There are rocks you can jump off of into the pool, but be careful as there are rocks in the pool near the waterfall. I really enjoyed climbing into the waterfall. The blinding water trying to wash you away from a precarious purchase on slippery rocks made me feel like I was doing something extreme (which for me isn’t saying much.) The rocks around the waterfall are covered with ferns and orchids creating a beautiful tropical oasis in a surprisingly dry part of Costa Rica.


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Jeff Chapple

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Me & Mr. Crab http://beyondatlas.com/me-mr-crab/ Thu, 04 Apr 2013 01:04:55 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=938 read more]]> IMG_2610

After a day in the brutal Nicaraguan sun at Playa Gigante, I crawled into my new makeshift bed under a beautiful tree just off the beach. Beer, stars, sea breezes and my favorite music were to be my evening. Headphones on, comfortably reclined, I started to zone out. I started to doze off.

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Tickle tickle. What the hell was that I felt on the back of my neck under the pillow? Mr. Crab had found a new little hiding place to crawl into. After freaking out for a few minutes at Mr. Crab’s boldness, I settled back into bed. What was that moving at my feet? As it turns out Mr. Crab has a lot of buddies. This one was making a B line for places one does not want any sort of crab. Yes, Mr. Crab tried to rape me. This was only the first salvo launched by Nature that night. We then had the possums, the cow, the thorn in the heal… It was not a good night.

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Jeff Chapple


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Escape to Volcano Island http://beyondatlas.com/escape-from-volcano-island/ Mon, 01 Apr 2013 19:01:45 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=964 read more]]> IMG_2592

JP, the father of the family living in the abandoned orphanage recommended that we go to “volcano island” for a day trip, or more properly called Ometepe. After a bumpy, semi-life threatening back o’ the pickup truck ride to the pier, we boarded the ferry for the hour long transit. The wind was delightful, the sun harsh and the crashing of the waves on the ferry’s bow soothing – I do love ferries. They are so mundane for those that ride them regularly,  but a true treat for desert folk such as myself.

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Lake Nicaragua is truly immense – it “feels” like an ocean really, and is relatively clean by Nicaraguan standards. The volcano rises majestically from its dark blue depths. While the volcano is inactive at the moment the possibility of eruption is quite real. Its perfect cone shape causes lenticular clouds to form at its summit as humid air is pushed up and cooled, giving it the constant appearance of being on the edge of violence. The island itself is quite large and could easily take a week to adequately explore – we only walked about four kilometers of it. The town is touristy, but apparently mainly by Nicaraguans only. The town is also quite poor, as is much of rural Nicaragua. We had quite a nice lunch (with many cold beers) for about $5 per person. The dirt floor of the café was “clean” and kept damp to keep the dust down, chickens and dogs greedily picking up any scraps.

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After a baking walk up the dusty main road, we turned off towards the beach. A small resort hotel, bar & restaurant at the end of a dirt road greeted us with a lovely beach and the much appreciated amenities of bathrooms, showers and changing rooms. The resort was quite pleasant, but definitely geared to locals. After an hour playing in the freshwater “sea,” we rushed back to catch the last ferry of the day. Ometepe should be on anyone’s list when in southern Nicaragua!

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Jeff Chapple


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Serendipity http://beyondatlas.com/serendipity/ http://beyondatlas.com/serendipity/#comments Sun, 31 Mar 2013 18:27:14 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=922 read more]]> IMG_2577

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Never in a million years could I have imagined that I would be awoken by the gunshot like sounds of mangos falling from their tree onto a tin room that covers my hammock in an abandoned orphanage in a small town next to Lake Nicaragua let alone being invited there by its current inhabitants after a chance meeting at a gas station convenience store. And then there is that half of that family is from Utah. It is a strange and wonderful world.

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Jeff Chapple

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Zombie Apocalypse ATL http://beyondatlas.com/zombie-apocalypse-atlanta/ http://beyondatlas.com/zombie-apocalypse-atlanta/#comments Wed, 27 Mar 2013 17:42:38 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=916 read more]]> photo1

Atlanta Hartsfield is one of the busiest airports in the world. From that, it follows that it should be busy pretty much all the time. Well, not so much. I arrived at 11 pm, late but not super late. Already all the shops were closing down. I stocked up on supplies for my all night layover. The bar tender slid a couple of unopened beers to me for free after hearing I was spending the night. I then set off to find a nest. For future reference, Terminal E (the old international terminal) should be your target.

Anyhow at about 12:30 am just about every other human being evaporated from the immense airport. I found myself quite literally alone. This was both fortuitous and unnerving. I strolled around the departure halls for hours seeing little more than a cleaners here and there and only one other passenger. I found a couch of sorts and bedded down. Airport CNN doesn’t seem all that loud when the terminals are full but god it’s loud when they’re empty. The 30 minute loop of the day’s news became a constant annoyance. Finally I put my headphones on and drowned it out with music.

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I awoke several hours later completely surrounded by people awaiting their departures. Going from zero to a million people in a subjective blink of the eye was very disconcerting. Lesson here: add ear plugs to your list.

Jeff Chapple

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Belize & Mutant Fireflies http://beyondatlas.com/belize-mosquitos-mutant-fireflies/ Sat, 23 Mar 2013 03:05:08 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=911 read more]]> DSC04136

As we laid down to sleep, we opened the the screens surrounding us, leaving the world outside open to our eyes and closed to the night-bound critters. As we relaxed and admired the sexual dance of the light night bugs. I felt was Thad’s  body tense with an exclamation of awe and admiration. As I looked to his side, I saw something that I will consider unnatural and impressive, a lightning bug shining in all its splendor . The lightning bug surfed the air like an acrobatic plane, its light on without stoping. It passed his window and went to the front of Wiggles, where we could no longer see it. As the lighning bug appeared on the other side of the window, we could see it was still “on” and strong, below it you could see the illumination  of the ground, a natural flashlight. The lighning bug traveled as the alpha it was, and we cheered him on.

Angela Arvizu

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The Life of Oranges http://beyondatlas.com/the-life-of-oranges/ Sat, 23 Mar 2013 02:59:56 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=907 read more]]> DSC02748

After 4 cloudy days, we find ourselves siting in the middle of an orchard of orange trees. I look out the side door  into the trees displaying the life cycle of the orange. The budding young deep green fruit usually acompanied by a few sibilings sprout from the stems of the best suited branches and grows to become a yellow and green fruit that is just right for harvesting, the fruits that matured on the tree become the perfect target to the incredible number of birds that roam the orchard. Birds delight in picking the fresh mature fruits. Some of the fruit will fall aided by gravity and become the food of bugs and other land creatures. The fruit will become a reddish, then brown, and finally display a deep black color of total decay. The loud birds sing during the early hours of the day. The sometimes uncoordinated song of the birds have a base of a woodpecker and distant hum of cars passing on the freeway that heads towards Tikal. Tikal is our next destination, it’s only 9 am and is already hot.

Angela Arvizu

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Sandy Fun http://beyondatlas.com/sandy-fun/ Sat, 23 Mar 2013 02:46:59 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=698 read more]]> Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 8.01.42 PM

The beach called Chachalacas, a well known spot in the North of Veracruz, sandy beaches, huts selling sea food and blue warm water. After a wonderful run, we encountered the sand dunes, they were calling out to us to run on them, to disturb the smooth pyramids made of sandy fun.

Angela Arvizu

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Cozumel http://beyondatlas.com/cozumel/ http://beyondatlas.com/cozumel/#comments Fri, 22 Mar 2013 22:52:17 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=891 read more]]> DSC09073

We watched for cars, bikers, or anyone else that might spot our crossing spot. “Ready?” Angela asked. “Yes” I replied. “Ninja time” she said as she began lifting her clunky rental bike over the short wall that separated the roadway from the wild jungle. I tossed my stuffed pack over the wall and then lifted my creaky bike and lowered it down. On the other side we pushed through the thick tangled green until we found a reasonable spot. Beneath a palm tree we smoothed out the ground, removing small rocks and sticks, checked for signs of an anthill, and then began making our bed. This was the very first time I had slept outside in a non-desert without at least having a backup tent. We were just out there, in the middle of it all, in the jungle of Cozumel, with a single sheet between us and the bugs. With the sheet tucked in all around us, and over our heads, I began thinking of our future destinations and schedule. At that point in occurred to me what the date was, the 7th, and I turned towards Angela and said, happy anniversary. We both began laughing.

We rose before the sun and started riding our bikes along the coastline. Fisherman were sipping on coffee, a few people were out for an early morning run, and a pair of men were down by the water practicing boxing. As the sun scratched its way past the horizon one of the anchored ships began to glow red. We decided to start by darting across the island and then looping all the way around the bottom. The trees shaded us as we cycled into a rhythmic trance. When we reached the eastern shoreline we stopped for first breakfast, a couple of hardboiled eggs with salt. A few vacant shacks, which evidently served as restaurants during the busy season, dotted the patchy shoreline. And right where we were standing was a sign, in English, saying ‘Nude Beach.’

Half way down the eastern shoreline we stopped at a small place called Playa Bonita, and climbed its quaint wooden platform to enjoy the shade of its palm-thatched roof. It was a perfect place for second breakfast. Back on our bikes we casually swayed from one side of the road to the other to see colorful flowers, to get a better look at a bird or a plant, or to see the military officers with guns walking the beach – presumably watching for drug traffickers. As we rode past a particularly rocky patch of coastline we heard a very loud sound and had to investigate. Leaving our likes we danced through the twists and turns of the sharp rocks until we came upon the source – a very powerful blowhole. As I looked towards the blowhole it spat out at me and ripped my hat off my head and launched it into the sky. It was quite funny. Angela’s hair would breathe, being pulled down, and then violently all thrown up in the air as if she were skydiving without a helmet. Cozumel’s secrets were delightful.

All day we were the only tourists actually exploring the island on bikes. Some people rented cars, jeeps, or mopeds to drive around the island, but not many. Of those that did, we never saw any of them get out of their cars to actually see these spots. The other side of the island, where the international cruise ships were ported, offered snorkeling, and suburbia, and I suppose that’s what most tourists want.

As we left the famed island of Cozumel I smiled. We had seen the island, had touched it and gotten to know it a bit, and although we were in one of the most expensive places around we stayed within budget J.

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Cliff Jump “Nemesis” http://beyondatlas.com/the-clif-jump-formerly-known-as-nemesis/ http://beyondatlas.com/the-clif-jump-formerly-known-as-nemesis/#comments Tue, 19 Mar 2013 04:39:38 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=696 read more]]> Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 7.46.38 PM

Rainy days are very beautiful, and most of all, cool. Rain also cleans the leaves making the green of the plants become more brilliant and alive. On one of these rainy days, I meet my nemesis and, consequently, learned some lessons. Here is the story:

The 25 foot jump was something I had done before, even higher jumps… I have done those with little  hesitation.  My nemesis (the 25ft jump) must have called unto the rain gods and told them to drop cold, cold rain. I found myself shivering even before getting into my swim suit, then, as I was soaked by the rain, my body went into survival mode. It said, “If you jump, WE WILL DIE”. I stood at the edge attempting to jump, my body and my will competing – body and mind moving in different directions.

I had to work myself into it, starting with a 4 footer, 7 footer and then finally my successful nemesis jump. My body was sure that if i jumped into the water I would get even colder than I already was. Lesson learned is that if you are already very cold, you will have a harder time getting into running water.

I jumped from my nemesis multiple times thereafter, just to assure my mind that it had won, and to teach my body of the block it had, I pushed myself to jump from it over and over again, cold or not cold.

Nemesis, I conquered you.

Angela Arvizu

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Real Mexico you say? http://beyondatlas.com/real-mexico-you-say/ http://beyondatlas.com/real-mexico-you-say/#comments Mon, 18 Mar 2013 04:38:52 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=871 read more]]> Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 8.32.59 AM

The use of the phrase “Real Mexico” was coming out of my mouth enough times to make me stop counting. The more I used the phrase, the more I realized I had not asked myself the original question. What is “real Mexico?”

These are my thoughts concerning the question:

Metropolitan area, covered by smog, with an air of wild freedom, modern cars and attitude. Metropolis of twisted commercialism and attitude of action, and a not forgotten memory of class separation.

Towns encountered between metropolises inspired by the touch and solidarity and sociality, where the people know each other and vendors stay on the middle of the street during the hot hours of the day selling pineapples, mangos, fruits with a relaxed sellers’ attitude – a catwalk of advertisements and dead commercials of things from the past and political propaganda. Hidden natural spots where the moon shines inside cenotes, through palm trees or the sound of waves where lovers loose themselves at the tune of nature. Islands, cascades, cenotes, sand dunes, city lights, trash, city buildings, cathedrals, dogs, cats, music, color, rain, sun, waves, vendors, children, mennonites, asians, fat tourists, pyramids, hitchhikers, street food, cannot be condensed to “real Mexico”.

Do I have the right to simplify all of what Mexico is? If attempted, I would still fail and miss completely what “real Mexico” is.

Angela Arvizu

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“Doggy Bag” you say? http://beyondatlas.com/doggy-bag-you-say/ Sun, 17 Mar 2013 04:57:46 +0000 http://beyondatlas.com/?p=707 read more]]> As we drive,  I look out of Wiggles’ window searching for oddities and curiosities. Most of the time these are provided by my fellow humans, I will write about an exemption. The oddity has to do with a dog adaptation, or something else.  This dog with its waggly tail had a heading, a mission, dismissing all humans and cars, he went on his merry way. This dog was carrying in his mouth a plastic bag containing what I assume to have been food. I wonder how he knew he could carry the bag and its contents. Animals here are much more adapted for survival. But it does give a new meaning to “doggy bag”.

Angela Arvizu

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