Monday, April 30, 2012

Super duper fun Dominican trip

Just back from the most AMAZING trip to the Caribbean! For the last couple of months, my buddy Andrew been posting some envy-inducing photos on Facebook of his sweet setup down in Cabarete, in the Dominican Republic. I had some new kites I'd been wanting to fly, Andrew assured me the wind was killer, and the flights were cheap...decision made!

First night I arrived, I find out everyone from my hotel is heading to a local nightclub, where a bunch of our fellow hotel guests were going to put on a circus performance to cap off their week of training... Wow. Here's one of the acts:

Next day the wind had the flags whipping. With a poor forecast for the rest of the week, everyone wanted to make the most of it. I got out for a marathon kite session, only coming in to switch kites and chow down at the hotel's beach-side bar called Chichigua (that's Spanish for kite).

Sure was feeling the exertion the next day, but we again had great wind, so again I took advantage until lunch time. Two friends I'd met there, Cassie and Bay, had suggested a down-winder from La Boca. A down-winder is where you travel along the coast, usually a few kilometres, and jump in a car to drive upwind. By this time the wind looked to stay consistent, so we jumped in a taxi with two of the hotel's kite instructors and headed up the coast. Unfortunately no time for kicking back at the restaurant or doing any runs on the mirror-flat river, so it was straight on the boards, through the surf and out in the ocean. With a solid 20 knots I was getting overpowered on my 12m kite, making for crazy boosts off the 8+ foot rolling swell and some rag-doll wipeouts...good thing Edward was always there to zip over, pick up my board, drop it off near me, and carry on his way. I have a feeling he was defying various laws of physics and aerodynamics, but he might just be awesome. After two hours of blasting downwind, carving back and forth between toe-side and heel-side, and popping off chop, we arrived back at Kite Beach and our hotel.

That night a big group headed out to Ali's Grill for some amazing food. After the two big days and no lunch, I didn't hold back: first the Churasco XXL steak (a foot-wide piece of marinated, meaty goodness), repeated with a chicken schnitzel dinner, then helped someone finish their churasco, before we headed off for ice cream! So good! I haven't eaten that much since June last year!

Edward tearing it up
After two days of that, I was almost grateful the wind had abated so I could stay out of the sun and recuperate: mostly eating, drinking, reading, and generally laying about or chilling at Chichigua. Occasionally I went snorkeling out to the reef. It also gave me a chance to purchase super-cheap, super-fresh tropical fruit from the nearby fruit stands, and look into the hotel's other offerings: a gym with regular classes; a skateboard half-pipe, which usually had mats at the bottom to be used for some other sport; and some formidable-looking circus apparatus. I also went into town to sample some of the local restaurants (fish tacos at Gorditos!) a few times; I strolled in along the beach once, which took about 30 minutes, but generally hopped on one of the death-defying motorcycle taxis (eventually riding on the back of a motorbike, wearing no helmet, while people were overtaking at the same time in both directions, became practically run-of-the-mill). The wind got up a bit each day, just enough for an hour's play on the kiteboard, but also a few hours of torrential rain.

By Wednesday I was starting to feel pretty lazy, and donned the runners for a jog inland, into El Choco National Park. Apparently there's a hike called 27 Waterfalls, but I didn't see any. The touristy tours were anything from $50-100, so I opted for a self-guided mission into the rain-drenched forest and became at one with the local red mud. Four hours of that brought my energy levels down a notch or two, but managed to join a crossfit class that evening.

Kristin and I all smiles, but I'm still hiding from the sun
During the week I'd heard that there was a great local surf break, Encuentro, not far away, and I made plans with some other people to get up at the crack of dawn and head out there. I actually got out of bed at 5:50am! But since it was still dark and raining, opted to sleep until 7, before rallying the troops and heading off. The waves were great, and it was a treat to surf just in board shorts.

Back to the hotel, lunch, wait for the wind to come up and go for a rip for an hour or two. Then it was time for a Brazillian jujitsu class! Super fun, and I could imagine MMA being a blast if the other guy wasn't trying his best to kill you.

The next morning, Kristin and I hit up the circus instructors for a trapeze lesson. The first sequence to learn was swinging out on the bar, hooking the legs over to get the hands free, then doing a back-flip onto the net to dismount. I managed it ok, and Kristin's gymnatics background made her a quick study. Next, an instructor got on the other swing. I swing out, grab the hand's of the other guy, swing back, let go of him mid-air and spin around and grab my own bar! So disorienting, but after a few "which way is up?!" flails I managed to complete it! Super fun.

After that silliness, we'd earned our breakfast, and headed to the Belgian Coffeehouse for great food and simply outstanding coffee (I rarely drink coffee, and I had mine black, no sugar - it was that good!).

That afternoon, I had time for one more blast on the kite. By this time I really felt like I was nailing the big boosts, had back loops and kite loops pretty consistent, and even landed a double back-loop! (although I use the term "landed" very loosely...didn't get power up so I just sank). Since it was my last session, I really didn't want it to end and I'd probably still be out there now! but my kite deflated (fortunately it was just the deflate plug) so I swam ashore and called it a day. After toweling down the kite in Chichigua and having a quick meal, it was time to jump in a taxi and head to the airport.

Drying my kite in Chichigua, with Edward and Andrew
If you like kiting and/or free-spirit adventure, I highly recommend the destination. Fly into Puerto Plata and stay in Cabarete. The hotel I stayed at was called Extreme Hotel. It's more like a hostel with everyone in separate rooms, since there was no soap and shampoo, and infrequent towel/sheet changes, and at first I was surprised that, at $300 for a week, it was more expensive that some of the more typical, neighbouring hotels. But there were numerous advantages over other hotels, because it was really a summer camp for adults. The bar, Chichigua, had great food and was the social hub of the whole beach. The circus, gym, and skate-ramp/multisport room were all within easy reach (helpful during the torrential downpours) and had discounted rates. And the kite facilities were probably the best on Kite Beach, with a big, convenient patch of grass for post-session cleanups, and a bunch of the local instructors keeping an eye on the new kiters. I'm really hoping to get back there soon!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ca-rib-EE-an or Ca-RIB-ee-an?

Heading to Puerto Plata this afternoon! First trip to the Carribean!

AND...I got a new kiteboard last night! Woop! (why use a period when there's exclamation marks to be used?!)

So how do I pack this baby? Tried a hockey bag: not long enough. Snowboard bag: not wide enough. Relive last year's bike travel madness with a bike box? Turns out it fit nicely, but three bears told me I couldn't...haha Actually, I didn't want to because lugging a big cardboard box around airport sucks, and it basically guarantees baggage handling charges. Was just about to head to Silent Sports to blow a morning and $200+ on a kiteboard-dedicated travel bag, potentially one of the golf-look-alike types, when I saw a large bag in the basement: L's golf travel bag! Fit everything perfectly! Board, two kites, harness, bars and lines, and even a pair of flippers. (Yes, I asked first :) )

A quick check of the weather forecast.
An elaborate practical joke? More importantly, the wind:
Boo! Time to find out if a kite can handle a lightning bolt on Wednesday arvo, I reckon!

Don't worry, I'm not expecting any sympathy... ;)