You Have Your Toe To Think About

If I only had a dollar for every time I heard someone say those words.

As those words hung in the air I knew I had to contemplate and then write about this unusual collection of letters and words. But what to say?

The back story is rather prosaic if not a bit embarrassing. I occasionally stub my toe. I guess that I do not always pick up my feet when I walk. Over the course of a year this might happen 3-4 times. And yet…

An epidemic occurred while on my vacation, while beach walking. In all at least half a dozen times. On one walk alone it happened 4 times. Same big toe on my left foot. It hurt, though not as much as the blow to my ego when at the third time on this walk the stub was instantaneously followed by a face first fall onto the beach…in front of three startled kids who had been working on a sand castle immediately to the left of where I hit sand. Another toe foot over I would have crushed them and destroyed the castle in one fantastic act of the ridiculously clumsy (I am contemplating starting a club of the RC as we will be called).

While wiping the sand off in the ocean, my mind was overwhelmed with two thoughts. First I could not rid myself of the image of the concerned mother of the children who in an excited voice either came over to see if I was OK or to yell at me for nearly destroying her family. It was hard to tell because she spoke in one of the many languages of the world I do not speak. The second was that I still had half a mile to go while dealing with a sore toe and the desire to remain vertical.

After returning to my lounge chair on the beach and going horizontal by choice, I began debating the merits of the words stubbed and jammed. Stubbing one’s toe conjures images of being clumsy and pathetic while one jams their toe in some act of manly athleticism.

I digress. I told you that the back story was prosaic.

It truly was the words and not what led to them that I find interesting. It must be the uniqueness of the combination. Or the image of toe contemplations similar to the navel contemplations of the 1960s.

All I know is when those words floated across the warm air from my wife’s beach chair to mine I felt that these would be words I would always remember. And probably never hear again.

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Beach Walking

Beach walking is a major recreational activity in Punta Cana. The miles long, uninterrupted beach comprised of soft white sand draw you into beach walking. At any moment in time, dozens of people are walking along our beach.

There are two styles of beach walkers. The most common type strolls along the beach soaking up the sun, the sights the smells and may occasionally jump into the ocean. The vast majority of strollers are couples, many hand-in-hand. Strollers are already relaxed into the rhythms of the island. There is no destination, no concern of time or place, only feeling and being.

The second style of beach walker exercises. They are motoring down the beach not unaware of their surroundings but willing to settle for a fast forward version of the people and other sights around them. For them aerobics trump aesthetics. This is not a put down of this form of beach walking, not at all. These people would otherwise be at a track, running path or on a treadmill if they were not here. For them, this comes down to doing what they will be doing in a tropical surrounding. The sun, sand and people still magnify and enhance the experience 10 fold.

The exercise walker is a distant cousin of the beach runner. In my youth before the impact of too many pounds dragged across too many miles took this joy away from me. I typically was at a beach a year from my late twenties to late thirties and called myself an avid beach runner. For a boy from the Midwest, running on a long beach in the dead of winter was a slice of heaven.

Beach running brings together beautiful environment and freedom. You are in shorts, no shirt and your feet are bare. The freedom is hard to describe beyond the lack of constraints of shoes. Maybe it is being in this otherworldly place that makes each stride feel freer than running on a path. I am sure that it as much psychological as physical.

On the best beaches the sand is smooth. You run but it is almost as if you are gliding, moving effortlessly, feeling the warm of the sun, playing in and out of the waves and seeing the sunlight shimmer on the thin layer of salt water as it rolls back to the ocean. Because the sand nearest the ocean can be hard, I would play with the timing of the waves as I ran. You want to hit the next step just after the water has washed over the sand softening it just enough. There is always the soft sand further away from the water but this takes effort and reduces speed, therefore nullifying much of the experience.

(By the way, the art of beach running has no room for people running in socks and running shoes who happen to be on the beach. I have nothing to say other than these people should immediately seek serious psychological counseling. The urgency is that it may take many years to relieve them of their deep seated problems.)

 

Back to beach walking. In our week in Punta Cana we experienced both types of beach walking. My wife’s stroll pace is faster than my exercise pace. Some walks were together and others alone. When alone I could stroll and she could motor. Together we strollecised. The third style of beach walking.

Thursday Has Become Adventure Day

I am working on how to keep the Adventure Thursday theme alive when I return to the U.S. and my regular life. I will let you know when this conundrum has been solved. For now I have the first Adventure Thursday to share.

Thursday April 10 in Curacao was definitely Adventure Day. It began with a drive to Christofel National Park on the NW side of the island, home to the highest peak on the island. The woman at the visitors center told us the climb would take an hour each way and that it was easy except for the last 15 minutes. She was right about the time but not about the easy part. It was a challenging grade for most of the way, at least for someone as not in shape as I am. (There were some middle school kids going up as we were going down. Three of the boys finished the uphill part and made it down only minutes after we did. Oh to be young again.) The trail was rocky and had some places where you had to navigate where your feet would go. Several times me and my 30 inch inseam had to conquer high steps from on rock to the next.  And then there was the final section. As tough as advertised.

First we had to scramble over some rocks using hands as well as feet. Then there was a vertical section involving finding footholds and rocks or tree limbs for my hands so I could pull myself up. The last 20 yards required squeezing through a very narrow passage, barely wide enough for me to get through, that had a very steep grade. My feet were on the walls to either side of me.

A few cuts and bruises but we made the summit. The views were stunning. I will post pictures when I return. I was admiring my stamina and fortitude just when I realized I would have to go back the way I came. Crap.

The climb down, at least for this first section, was harder than the uphill climb. Face forward going down. Finding places for hands and feet. Needing to jump or drop where you had reached and pulled on the way up. Complicating things were the people coming up sharing the same path. After surviving this first section the downhill was doable. Strenuous but doable. Amazingly it took about the same time down as up. We had thought that given the way gravity works the downhill would have been faster.

Thigh muscles ached by the time I finished. I expect that they may be worse tomorrow. However, Chistofel Mountain was just the beginning of this 4 part adventure day.

Part Two was the dive at Playa Kalki not far from the mountain. We made time to find a nice lunch and spend time on the beach. But then on to diving. We had rented equipment the day before. Unfortunately the entire dive set including air tanks had to be carried down 22 steps. (Also meaning 22 steps up on the way back.) We geared up, did buddy checks, got information about the reef and then jumped off the peer. This was to be only our second unguided dive. Ever.

Nice dive, good coral, interesting fish. Best of all was the freedom. When you go with a dive master and group, you all go where the dive master goes. Too often people bunch up. I have been kicked in the head many times on such a dive. But when you and your buddy are on your own you go where the whim takes you. See something interesting to the right, go check it out. Want to just play in the water like a fish…do it. We made it there and back on our own contributing to my SCUBA confidence level and adding to the legend.

Number Three was only a little bit adventurous but it all counts on Adventure Thursday. We had found a very nice restaurant on our way to Playa Kalki and decided to have an early dinner on our return home. The owner was a card. He came to our table and recited the day’s menu. I wanted to try something I had never eaten but decided against goat brains though they came highly recommended. I opted for the barracuda. It turns out to be a meaty white fish. The food was quite good and the atmosphere outstanding. There are bird feeders on the other side of a half wall next to our table. The birds there were beautiful. Orange and black, yellow and green, small and large. Then as we got up to pay the bill the owner tells us that life is to short to rush and that if we sat in the rocking chairs we could get a surprise. Ice Cream. That was a very pleasant surprise.

Last but not least was the Night Dive. I have done this a few times before. There is an extra bit of adventure, and for me trepidation, in diving when darkness surrounds you. All you have that allows you to see is a flashlight. The beauty of night dives are twofold. You see a few things that you may see during the day but all the colors are different. Even better, the nocturnal hunters are out. We did not encounter as much as I had hoped but we did see some lobster and a baby barracuda. For this journey in the deep we wisely chose to take a guide along.

Four adventures in a single day. Lets see to what extent I can keep up the new tradition of Adventure Thursday.

A Tale of Two Beaches

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It was the best of beaches, it was the worst of beaches. To be honest yesterday’s beach was not the worst I have been to but it did pale in comparison to today’s magnificent beach. Even a Dickens’ character would have had to be happy at this beach.

Where to begin. Today was our first full day of sunshine. We asked the boys (my son and his friend Jon) to get up early so we could have a full day. Most days D has slept until 11 or 11:30. They actually complied and we were out the door before 10. The bribe was that we were going to the boogie board beach, known on the island as Hapuna State Park.

What made this beach magnificent you ask? The fine sand, the clear aqua waters, the waves, the sun, the sun, and the ability to get 30 yards from the shore and still have a water depth of only five feet. (If you read the last several posts you will recognize that  repeating ” the sun”was no error.)

We boogied, swam, sat in chairs and read, had lunch in the covered picnic area and soaked it all in. Including a little too much sun even with multiple applications of sunscreen. What can you expect when the first perfect day is day 7 of our vacation. No second degree burns at least. At one point near noon the wind kicked up moving from the beach out to sea. The waves would crash on the shore and then droplets blown back. It was beautiful. At one point at the edge of the beach a wind funnel formed. The swirling sand had the look of a mini tornado. One of those bamboo beach mats was blown high into the sky. For a minute or so it was as if you were watching an expert kitesman causing his kite to do tricks. I could not believe how high the mat went before the phenomena was over and the mat floated down to the sea. On the Big Island there have been other moments of sudden change in the weather.

We stayed until sunset and quite contently drove the hour back to our room. The sunset was a 7 out of 10. Yet even more beautiful was the line of clouds touching the mountains in front of us. As the sun set, the purples, blues and reds just blew us away. Unfortunately we were on a highway with no place to pull off so the only images are in my head and in this paragraph.  

The day before we went to Kekaha Kai state park. This day was a tweener– somewhere between the bad luck we had for the first half of the vacation and the very fine second half. The weather itself was like that. The most sun we had seen in one day since we arrived in Hawaii yet not the bright sun with a few meandering clouds that we had the last 3 days.

The bad. We had picked this place because we were told it was good for boogie boarding and only a 30 minute drive. The boys had no desire to be in the car at all so this was as far as we were “allowed” to go. Even this drive caused modest grumbling. (The severe grumbling was yet to come.) No one told us that the park closed on Wednesday. That would not necessarily make this a total loss since we could still get to the beach. The only problem was that the beach was 1.8miles from where we could park. We had chairs, boogie boards, a picnic lunch and a few other items to transport. We put it in the boys hands, drive to the next beach or walk to this one. They choose the walk.

It was a stroll on a hot afternoon on a partially paved road that led us through a lava field. Even though we tried to take only “essentials” we had way too much to carry but we made it. We made it to a small beach comprised of sand and water with large and small lava rocks in between. It was hard work to get to the water and once in you needed to battle more rocks. Not what we had hoped for. There was a second beach within walking distance so we packed up and crossed the sand. lava rock and see to the other beach. Beautiful sand but the ocean surface here was also rocks. Severe grumbling by the boys (only topped by the grumbling on the walk back to the car). Lemons from which to make lemonaide. With nowhere else to go we hung out on the beach.

The good. We had continuous sunshine for the entire afternoon. The boys found a way to have fun by playing with a frisbee on the beach and we sat, read and soaked up the sun. The other good thing was studying the lava on the walk down. I will cover that later.

The walk back to the car seemed to take forever.

Taking the boys to Hapuna the day afte taking them to Kekaha Kai; it was a far, far better thing that I did, than I have ever done.