Finally Teaching Windsurfing

Early morning guests at the dock floating off the hostel's beach.

Early morning guests at the dock floating off the hostel’s beach.

It was indeed quite an adventure, but I got the windsurfers from Costa Rica to Hostel Paradiso in Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua. If the boards had been even 2 inches longer, they wouldn’t have fit in the bus. Phew!

My first students were two of the owners, and both picked it up super quickly. These new, super-wide training boards help immensely with balance, one of the bigger challenges for beginners.

My first two paying students were a small woman and an even smaller 14-year-old girl. They, too, did great! Isabella, the 14-year-old, was the first student to make it back to the hostel on her own.

This is my first paying student during her first lesson. These wide beginner boards really seem to help, and it makes me feel great to see students sailing so quickly.

This is my first paying student during her first lesson. The blurry image is a result of trying to keep up with her while in a kayak and taking photos. The hostel is on the left side of the photo.

I’m getting lots of exercise while teaching. During first lessons, I swim along, giving instructions and encouragement, and occasionally swimming the board away from the beach. Since all the students have done fabulously, I’ve had to do a lot of swimming, and I couldn’t be happier! It’s so rewarding to see them go from frustrated as they fall on their first few attempts, then suddenly start cruising along. Everyone has been sailing within 30 minutes of the start of the lesson, and that includes at least 15 minutes on the beach. If they go out a second time, I follow on a kayak, trading with them when they get too close to the beach (The wind-driven waves push them toward shore, frustrating for the students, but a great safety feature).

We’re just starting to advertise, so I’m far from fully booked. Thus I’ve had plenty of time to sail on my own. The beginner boards don’t meet my performance desires, but I still have fun doing tricks. It serves as good advertising, as I’ve had several people come up to me afterwards. When I’m not teaching or sailing, I hang out at the beach, in a hammock under the palapa, visit with guests, or read. I’m so glad I managed to find boards!!

Posted in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, recreation, travel, windsurfing | 5 Comments

Back to Work

Well, my initial foray into Costa Rica, in search of beginner windsurfing equipment, was unsuccessful. I visited Bahía Salinas (coastal area in the north) and Lake Arenal (famous as a windsurfing destination for more than 30 years), but I saw almost only kiteboards. The couple of beginner windsurf boards I saw weren’t for sale, still being used for the occasional folks still interested in learning the seemingly near-dead sport. Drats!

Mike at the coast

Me “suffering” in beautiful, warm weather and with gorgeous views in southern Nicaragua.

Having struck out, there was no compelling reason to return to Laguna de Apoyo, so I decided to explore the surf beaches along the southern coast of Nicaragua. As you can see from the photo, I’ve been suffering. 🙂 I was feeling sufficiently settled in the area that on New Years Eve, I ran about 30 minutes into the main – not to be confused with big – town of San Juan del Sur to put a deposit on an apartment for the month of January. I returned to my lodging outside of town to an email from Mark, a German fellow in Costa Rica whom I had emailed two weeks earlier.

It turns out Mark has two beginner boards he is willing to sell for an agreeable price. What timing! Luckily, my new landlord was understanding, and I’m going back to Costa Rica today (Sunday) to check out and probably buy the boards. It still remains to be seen how easy it is to get everything across the border. I hope it is a short and sweet story, not an entertaining (for you readers) tale of travails and woe.

I’m feeling confident, so by the end of this week, I should be teaching windsurfing at Hostel Paradiso. Come on down!

Posted in accomodations, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, recreation, travel | 4 Comments

I’m Back …

The view from my living room (an open air patio). My office will be the beach and the water.

The view from my living room (an open-air patio). My office will be the beach and the water.

… back in Nicaragua, that is. But not for long. I arrived at Hostel Paradiso Saturday night, and I have enjoyed a few very relaxing days here at Laguna de Apoyo. My job is to teach windsurfing, but we’re lacking one important thing – the windsurfing equipment. I specifically write “equipment” because when describing my predicament as “lacking windsurfers” to a hostel guest, she asked if I meant windsurfers as in people, or as in equipment. Doh!

So, woe is me, I have to travel to Costa Rica to find inexpensive, used boards. I don’t even get to go to an exciting place such as the inland capital city of San Jose; I have to go to the beach of Bahía Salinas on the Pacific Ocean, and if that doesn’t pan out, to Lake Arenal, a top windsurfing destination for more than 30 years. The suffering I’m willing to endure for my work! 🙂

Needless to say, I’m psyched to visit these new (for me) places. I’m anxious to locate the equipment, strike a bargain, then figure out how to get it back to the hostel promptly, but I will take time to enjoy the places I visit. Anyone surprised by that? I didn’t think so.

I’ll let you know when I’m back at the hostel and teaching. I’ll be here until February 8th, in case any of you want to learn to windsurf in the laguna’s warm, shark-free waters, surrounded by the eco-reserve’s amazing natural beauty (not to mention the swimsuit-clad hostelers).

Posted in accomodations, nature, recreation, travel, work

What’s Next?

As I mentioned in my last post, my Peace Corps service is over. I’m also back from my journey through Central America. I ended up visiting Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Nicaragua. I passed through Honduras on my way to/from Nicaragua, but I didn’t really “visit” it. I then spent a month back in Querétaro, house/pet-sitting for friends and helping my Cinvestav students prepare for an international materials science congress.

The second week of August I went to Cancún to watch the students give their presentations, and I then settled down in Cozumel, a nearby island. It’s much more quaint and quiet than Cancún, which I far prefer, yet it’s not too small (one loop around the island on my bike wipes me out … which is sad as the Ironman course makes three loops). I’ve avoided using “getting old” as an excuse for anything, but I’m starting to reconsider. 🙂

My pool in Cozumel, about 100 meters from where I'm staying. Tough life!

My pool in Cozumel, about 100 meters from where I’m staying. Tough life!

So, several people have asked me “What’s next?” The short answer to the long-term aspect of that question is “I don’t know.” I still don’t know what I want to be when or if I grow up. Actually, I have no intentions of growing up, but I do expect I will eventually make longer-term plans.

In the short-term, I will return to the U.S. in late September. It will be my first trip “home” in more than two and a half years! I’m not worried about reverse culture shock, but I’m sure it will be a bit strange. I’ll spend about ten days in Southern California, visiting family and friends, then I’m going to New Jersey. Yep, New Jersey! I’ll be house/cat-sitting for Micha, a Peace Corps friend who is returning to Mexico to volunteer independently for six weeks. I’m thrilled because I will finally get to visit New York City. I’ve visited many places around the world, but still haven’t visited NYC.

Dulce, the cat Micha adopted in Mexico and took home to New Jersey. She is one of three cats I'll be caring for.

Dulce, the cat Micha adopted in Mexico and took home to New Jersey. She is one of three cats I’ll be caring for.

From there, I’m off to the Big Island of Hawaii for ten days to crew for Kathleen, a friend that is competing in the Ultraman World Championships. If you’re not familiar with Ultraman, it’s a 3-day, Ironman-triathlon-type event. In other words, the people that compete in it are even crazier than I am. 🙂 I’m thrilled to support Kathleen and to visit my other friends in my adopted home.

I had considered spending the winter in Hawaii, but instead I’ll be wintering in Nicaragua, specifically at Laguna de Apoyo, a huge crater lake in an eco-reserve. One of the few buildings on the lake is Hostel Paradiso, where I’ll be starting a windsurfing lesson/rental program. On a whim (three attractive young women that I met at another hostel were headed there, so, shockingly, I decided to follow them), I visited the hostel during my summer travels and was taken by the area’s beauty and serenity. The water is warm, but still refreshing; I enjoyed a long swim my one morning there. When the owner of the hostel heard I used to windsurf, he invited me to come start the business. Step one will be locating inexpensive windsurfers, as they can’t be found in Nicaragua.

The women who "dragged" me to Laguna de Apoyo. Pssst, guys, there is a beautiful crater lake in the background.

The women who “dragged” me to Laguna de Apoyo. Pssst, guys, there is a beautiful crater lake in the background.

Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, as viewed from the crater rim.

Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, as viewed from the crater rim.

Some of you will remember that I used to be very passionate about windsurfing. It’s one of the reasons why it took me more than six years to complete my Ph.D. I used to dream of having a windsurfer rental shack on the beach, with my diploma hanging on the wall. When Javier offered me the opportunity, that memory came storming back, and, well, I’ll be “living the dream” in December and January.

View of Laguna de Apoyo from Hostel Paradiso. Yes, gentlemen, there are lots of young ladies, and a bikini is the typical wardrobe. Life's gonna be tough. :) Don't worry ladies, if you choose to visit, there'll be plenty of eye candy for you, too ... that's in addition to yours truly. hahahaha

View of Laguna de Apoyo from Hostel Paradiso. Yes, gentlemen, there are lots of young ladies, and a bikini is the typical wardrobe. Life’s gonna be tough. 🙂 Don’t worry ladies, if you choose to visit, there’ll be plenty of eye candy for you, too … that’s in addition to yours truly. hahahaha

From there it’s back to New Jersey for a few more months of house/cat-sitting for Micha (she’ll be volunteering in Guatemala this time). It will be another new experience for me – living through a real winter. I expect the novelty will wear off quickly, but I’m confident I’ll survive.

Which brings us to early May 2014. Where I go then is yet to be determined. During my time at Cinvestav, I was reminded how much I enjoy teaching and mentoring, so I may look for a teaching position at a college. There is also a chance that I will love living on the laguna so much that I’ll return to Nicaragua. I’m contemplating several other options, as well. I feel blessed to have so many possibilities and the flexibility to consider/pursue many. I’ll let you know where I land.

Posted in accomodations, nature, recreation, travel, work | 7 Comments

Ahhh …. No

I’ve been in Mexico for a little over two years. There have been several occasions when people have asked me for directions. I found it particularly surprising during my first few months. When I am walking, running, or biking through Juriquilla, a neighborhood I pass through on the way to work, I don’t find it as surprising, as there are a fair number of foreigners living in the very upscale area.

Thus, I was particularly amused earlier this week as I was walking home after work. A car slowed as it approached me, the passenger’s windows came down, the woman leaned her head toward the window, seemed like she was about to speak, but all that came out was “Ahhhh …. No” and the car continued on.

I don’t really know any more than that. She may have mistaken me for a friend, but I think it was more likely that she was about to ask directions, saw that I was a “gringo” and decided that I  a) was unlikely to know the directions (although I probably did), b) was unlikely to speak in intelligible Spanish (she would have been right), or c) both of the above. 🙂

I think I laughed out loud as the car drove on.

Now to address the pink elephant in the room. This blog has lain abandoned for the past six months. The little story above was a spark, an easy story to crank out and share with you. There have been literally dozens of times when I thought “I’m going to blog about that,” but never actually put fingers to keyboard. I could fill several blog posts with excuses, but I won’t.

I will, however, take this opportunity to note that TODAY is my last official day of work as a Peace Corps volunteer at Cinvestav. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day (it is always on May 10th in Mexico) and is a holiday. My last day as a volunteer is Sunday.

It has been an ¡¡¡¡AMAZING!!!! two years; not all good, but still amazing. I’ll wax poetic about it another time. I also intend to belatedly write about many of the events that triggered an “I’m going to blog about that.” None of that is likely to happen before August, as early next week I’m starting a two-month journey through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and who-knows-where-else. I only have one thing scheduled – the second week of June in Belize with my sisters, Lorrie and Jane, and my niece Allie and her family. I have a general route in mind, but if I hear of a neat place, I’ll divert to it. If I fall in love with an area, I’ll hang out longer.

I plan to check email occasionally at Internet cafes, but other than that I’ll be quite disconnected … and loving it! I may blog some, but no promises until I settle down in Cozumel in August.

Last, but far from least, I want to wish my amazing sister, Lorrie, a happy birthday. ¡Feliz Cumpleaños mi querida hermana! Belated birthday wishes to my two other terrific siblings, John and Jane, as well. If you don’t believe I could have three amazing siblings, just ask them. 🙂

Posted in culture, language, Mexico, travel | 6 Comments

Proud Advisor and Friend

Dr. Juan Manuel Alvarado-Orozco and me just after he was officially awarded his Ph.D.

Dr. Juan Manuel Alvarado-Orozco, my first Ph.D. student, finished today! He isn’t really “my” student. I lucked into the opportunity to collaborate with him when Cinvestav invited me to do my Peace Corps volunteer work at their center and granted me the title of visiting professor. Then Dr. Juan Muñoz-Saldaña offered to serve as my counterpart. He and his outstanding group of students and post-docs have made me feel welcome from the start and have provided me with limitless opportunities to contribute.

Juan Manuel was one of the first students Dr. Muñoz sent to work with me, partially because he was nearly fluent in English. There is no doubt that I have learned far more from Juan Manuel than he has from me, but I know he has appreciated my willingness to act as a sounding board and my comfort with asking probing (i.e., stupid) questions. I’ve certainly been able to share my “expertise” in English, along with my obsession with grammar, formatting and consistency. On occasion, I’ve probably even provided some worthwhile technical advice.

The first work I did was help revise an article Juan Manuel was writing. While reviewing the references, a name caught my eye, as it was a friend of mine from graduate school. It turns out that Brian (Gleeson) has done seminal work on (Ni,Pt)Al, which most of Dr. Muñoz’s group has relied upon. Being able to claim a science “rock star” as my friend and teasing the possibility of establishing contact with him raised my stock immeasurably.

Fortunately, Brian is as nice as he is smart. He invited Juan Manuel to visit him at Pitt and later came to visit us at Cinvestav.

Dr. Brian Gleeson, Betto, Juan Manuel, and me during an evening discussing science over beer, margaritas and Coca Cola.

As had I, Brian recognized what a bright, young scientist Juan Manuel is and invited him to return to Pitt as a post-doc. Juan Manuel will be getting his first taste of a real winter starting in January or February, and I’m thrilled to have played a role in putting these two in contact. I expect great things to come. Juan Manuel will be learning at the foot of yet another master (Dr. Muñoz, not me, being the first), and Brian will have a collaborator with endless enthusiasm and energy to continually challenge him.

Felicidades y muy buena suerte Dr. Juan Manuel. Me siento orgulloso de llamarte mi amigo.

Posted in Mexico, work | 2 Comments

Where are you from?

“Where are you from?” is a rather innocuous question. It’s great for small talk or starting a conversation. Turns out it can also provide a great laugh.

A couple of evenings ago I stopped at a neighborhood market to buy some fresh bread for dinner. As I was waiting for my change, a 3-year-old boy looked up at me, still with my bike helmet on, and asked “Where are you from?” to which I replied, “Los Angeles, in the United States.” My answer didn’t trigger any follow-up comments or questions, so to keep the conversation going, I asked him “Where are you from?”

His response “From my house.” left his mom, me and the nearby shoppers cracking up.

Posted in culture, language, Mexico