Bakersfield Triathlon

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been busy.

Last weekend we were our usually busy selves and took a trip to Bakersfield for the Bakersfield Triathlon. I know what you’re saying… “Who in their right minds would want to do a triathlon in Bakersfield at the end of the summer?” Well the only answer I have is that we were definitely not in our right minds! We had fun anyway.

My dad has done this triathlon every year for the last 4 years. This was my first triathlon after an 8 year hiatus of playing frisbee. Before that I used to do a couple of triathlons each summer. Lucky for me, the Bakersfield Triathlon has both an olympic distance and a sprint distance. Dad did the olympic and I did the sprint.

For those that aren’t familiar with the sport of triathlon, it is a race that combines swimming, biking and running in that order. An olympic distance consists of a 1.5 K swim, a 40K bike, and a 10 K run. A sprint distance consists of a 0.75 K swim, a 20 K bike, and a 5 K run. Some competitions allow relays where one person does each event and the individual times are added up, but most competitions are a grueling endurance event in which one person does all the events by themselves.

Well the day dawned bright and sultry. The temp was about 75 degrees F when we woke up and above 90 degrees F by the time we finished. The swim took place in Lake Ming on the East side of Bakersfield (despite the swimming prohibited sign!). The water temp was perfect and no wetsuits were necessary.

The bike was a nice out and back course along well-paved and relatively traffic free roads. The olympic course had a couple of good hills before turning around and coming back.

The run was advertised as a little long, more like 6 K and 11 K. It was mostly on trails and bike paths, but was dusty and had little to no shade. This was a bit problematic in the heat and most of the crowd just “survived” the run instead of “racing it”.

In the end, Dad and I both had a great time. Dad came in 2nd in his age group and with a time very close to his last years’ time. I came in 3rd in my age group and 10th out of all the ladies in the sprint race. There will definitely be more races to come!

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We Made it Back!

Asa and I made it safely back to the states on wednesday night. Our journey was fairly uneventful, just the way we like it!

We managed to utilize a wide variety of transportation types during our journey. Our transportation consisted of taxi, plane, plane, bus, train, and car in that order. Our flights were both a little late, but it didn’t really matter because we had a long layover in Miami and a long time between arriving at LAX and when our train left from union station. The train, Amtrak’s Surfliner, was actually on time, which was surprising considering their horrible track record for delays.

The requisite “end” photo taken in the same place as our “beginning” photo.

We are very glad to be back in the states and are enjoying the warm weather and clear skies and spending time with family. All the animals are very happy to see us and haven’t let us out of their sight yet.

My Journey to Cabo Polonio: A Magical Place Off the Grid

Voted as one of the best beach towns in the World for 2012, Cabo Polonio might not be here in 2013 if the Uruguayan Government has anything to do with it.

Cabo Polonio was founded by fisherman, hippies and squatters (now locals) and is located about 5 hours by bus outside of Montevideo, Uruguay. Many of the houses were built illegally and expanded illegally, adding a wall over a few months time, then 6 months later adding a roof, then adding another wall. Park Rangers actively tear down new improvements as they see them come up.

Now is the time to visit since the government is trying to demolish many of the houses and let big business come in and put up a resort.

A friend and co-worker sent me an article from a magazine that talked about Cabo Polonio being the best beach town in the World. Without that article, I’m not sure I would have visited Cabo or even know about it. Thanks, Doug!

I started asking friends in Montevideo how to get to Cabo Polonio and here are the two sets of directions that I received:

The first set of directions are:

  • Jump on a bus going out there
  • Get off at the stop near Cabo Polonio (Cabo for short)
  • Find a truck that will take you to Cabo
  • Pay them 100 pesos (about 5 US dollars) to take me to Cabo
  • Ask locals for the place I’m staying at and they will know since it’s small.

I had a friend who knows someone who owns a house in Cabo and helped me get in touch with her to stay at her place.

The second set of directions are:

  • Go to Punta del Diablo.
  • Walk four hours through the dunes to Cabo Polonio.
  • Ask for a hostel there.

Yeah, I wasn’t about to do that my first time there.

I decided to go with the first set of directions.

My worries about going to Cabo:

  • I was going by myself and didn’t speak much Spanish. I wasn’t confident I could communicate with people if I needed to.
  • I didn’t know where to get off the bus
  • I didn’t know how to find a truck to take me to cabo
  • Once in Cabo, I didn’t know how to get to the place I was staying
  • I had no clue how to deal with eating food or what to do

Other than those things, I was looking forward to having a great adventure.

Getting to Cabo Polonio

Cabo Polonio is past Punta del Este which is like the Hamptons of South America, past the small surfing villages of La Paloma and La Pedrera, and past the cement, cobblestone and dirt roads.  The journey starts by taking a bus from Montevideo or a car to where the dirt road ends. If you take a car, you have to leave it about 30 minutes away from Cabo Polonio.

Waiting out the rain under the bus stop looking at the trucks.

You have to jump in a giant truck for the 30 minute journey through a national park, over and around sand dunes, along large stretches of beach with waves crashing on the large tires of the truck.

Say goodbye to the city, electricity, running water, and hello to nature and a village off the grid with less than 100 inhabitants.

The trucks are almost monster trucks built to transport army personnel. I jumped on a truck with a large tarp over the back to keep dry from the rain. There were holes in the tarp and the back of it didn’t cover the whole seating area so me and the 5 other people that arrived when I did got wet. The ride took about 30 minutes.

Much nicer than the truck I rode in. It has a sponsor.

Tourists…

I made it to the place I was staying. All my clothes were soaked, especially my shoes and socks from stepping in big puddles of water and getting rained on.

It was one of the largest houses in the village. It was built and recycled glass bottles randomly placed throughout the wall as a way for light to shine through.

We had fun conversations mixing the little spanish I could talk and the little english they could talk. The lady I was staying with had a boyfriend who was the local surf instructor. He had surfed all over the world including California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Australia. We listened to Sublime and Jack Johnson while we played scrabble in spanish. I lost. I got lucky with a few words, but it was pretty difficult for me to play in a new language.

As I looked out the window the next morning, I noticed a completely different day. There was a bright blue sky, a couple white clouds creating a picture-perfect background for the light blue water crashing on the long stretch of beach.

Here’s the view from the side of the house. You can see the well for water.

View from the side of the house

Many of the little restaurants in the town were closed. The village seemed deserted at times.Because of the time of year, not many people were living there and there weren’t many visitors. I felt like I had the whole beach to myself.

I was able to get away from it all and enjoy nature. No cell phone, no computer, no electronics. There were 2 LEDs in the room I was staying in that were powered by solar power if I needed them at night.

The house had a large tank of water above it so we could shower. There was a propane tank with a burner to heat the water as it goes through a pipe to have warm water. To get warm water, we had to turn the water on, open the gas line, light it, then shower with a little warmer water than normal.

Besides the room I stayed in, most everything seemed to be lit by candle light at night. There were large plastic water jugs recycled with sand in them where you would place a candle and light it.

I met an awesome couple from the Netherlands and enjoying talking with them one night at the hostel they stayed at.

Candle light reading

Great conversation, drinks, and candle light

The nights in Cabo Polonio were amazing. After talking with a couple people who had hiked Patagonia and have been traveling for 1-year in South America. They said the night in Cabo Polonio was the best night they had seen anywhere.
I’ve never seen so many stars in the sky along with a gray-ish band of stars that was the Milky Way. It was incredible.

It put me at home when I used to go up to our cabin in the Mountains away from everything. If I were to have one place in the world that I absolutely loved, it would be at our land in the mountains under the stars next to a friends and family and a warm fire with S’mores in hand. Cabo Polonio reminded me of that place and gave me chill bumps when looking up and admiring the sky.

One night, I laid down for around an hour outside looking up at the stars letting thoughts pass through my mind and feeling completely relaxed.

I’ve tried describing the stars in the sky and how it looked in Cabo Polonio to people, but then everyone says, “Ohh, come out to the mountains,” or “Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of stars in the sky outside of the city.”

I’ve seen those skies though. They aren’t the same. The closest picture I could find online was from a picture on earthsky.org here

Image that best resembled what I saw at night. This image is not from Cabo. http://en.es-static.us/upl/2012/01/milky_way.jpeg

There were no clouds in the sky and there was a light from a lighthouse passing by every 12 seconds in the distance. When walking around at night, I would walk a few steps, then wait for the lighthouse to shine around so I could see where to walk, then walk further and wait. It definitely kept me from falling down a 10ft sand dune into a large puddle.

At night, sea lions often join together in groups on the rocks around the lighthouse and you can hear them in the distance. I’d like to think they are telling knock-knock jokes all night to each other.

Where the sea lions hang out at night and tell knock-knock jokes

The weekend-long trip was just long enough to enjoy getting away from it all. Here are some more pictures from the village.

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

A lively house

Beautiful night. Cool Graffiti

Local lawnmower

It’s easier than I thought to find a hostel

An old fishing boat enjoying the sun

Path to get to Cabo Polonio

A small windmill providing power for a house next to the power for the lighthouse

Flat dirt road just before I arrive to the bus stop to leave Cabo Polonio

Fun Fact about Cabo Polonio:

In 2011, there were 95 inhabitants but over 1,000 visitors in the summer months alone. There were so many people illegally camping in the National Forest area around Cabo Polonio this past summer, government officials would go around and kick people out an take tents. This led local hostel owners and house owners in Cabo to be able to charge up to $500 US Dollars per night to rent out a room/house (most houses are 1-2 rooms and a kitchen) because of the demand.

Buenos Aires Public Transportation

This past weekend we found ourselves in Buenos Aires again. There was a small ultimate tournament there that Matt and Asa both played in. Asa and I booked a hotel in the downtown area of Buenos Aires because we didn’t know the field location until two days before the tournament. Luckily for us, the public transportation in Buenos Aires is very extensive and includes buses, subways, and trains.

Buenos Aires is full of buses and anyone can take them for a small fee of about $0.25 US, and they go everywhere in the city. The following are a couple of problems with taking the bus.

1. Figuring out which bus to take. There are more than 100 different bus routes throughout the city. Luckily there is a nice website that can be used to find the correct route, that is, once you figure out how to use the website!

2. Finding change. There is a coin shortage in Argentina and the buses only take change. Stores will ask repeatedly if you have correct change and will sneer at you when you don’t. There are several card payment systems that have been installed in all realms of public transport in the last 5 years. On our last visit we obtained a SUBE card which helped us on our way.

3. If you’re in a hurry, forget it. Take a taxi! Traffic can be really bad in the city and the buses take forever.

The subway in Buenos Aires is fairly easy to take, but it is sometimes very crowded, only goes to certain locations, and can be a mecca for thieves who work together to target tourists. When my parents visited us in Buenos Aires their camera got stolen on the subway, despite being very vigilant.

Knowing these things, we decided that we would investigate train options this time around. We took the train the last time we were in the city and thought it was nice. Upon investigation, we discovered that there are not one, but three different train lines servicing parts of the city. Only one of these lines is included in the website (above) that shows the bus routes. We found the line that stopped near our destination and could get there and back for about $0.30 US each. Trains left every 15 minutes all day long and we could arrive at our destination in 11 minutes. The equivalent bus ride would have taken upwards of 45 minutes.

The train station at our destination

The three train stations are next to each other. Lining the streets outside the stations are vendors selling everything from donuts to alarm clocks to shoes. Beyond the vendors, in the street, is one of the most extensive bus stops I have ever seen. There were more than 5 lanes that buses could enter, which each had approximately 20 stops arranged adjacent to each other. It took up almost two whole blocks.

Only a small portion of the bus stop. Each covered area is the stop for a different bus line.

Here’s to public transportation making our lives easier and relatively hassle free!

 

Iguazu Falls – A trip to the edge

Excited to start the trip to the falls today, we shoveled down a few more (un)healthy servings of eggs and headed to the bus station. We found out the day before that buses every 20 minutes so we knew we’d have very little wait at any time of day. When we got to the station everything was running smoothly and in about 10 minutes we had started our 40 minute bus ride to the Falls. When we got to the Falls we grabbed tickets and headed into the park.

To start we headed to an overlook next to the main falls to see the full power in action. This required us to catch a train and naturally it pulled out just as we got to the station. Luckily it’s a slow train taking a circuitous route for the first stop and we were able to walk to the next station before it left and off we went to the main falls. From the station, there was a 2/3 mile raised metal bridge over the river. There has been a drought so the river level was a bit low and the water flow for much of the walk was very gentle. This allowed us to be able to see and even identify a number of fish and even a turtle along our walk to and from the falls.

At the end of the pathway, the bridge opened up to an amazing view of the main falls. We were at the top of the falls looking down and the roar was quite loud. We stayed there for quite a while, marveling at the various parts of the falls. It was incredible to watch the water go over the edge, turn into streams and then into vapor that hits the bottom with such force to send up a constant cloud of mist. It was raining off and on for most of the day but here the drops were raining up instead of down. We probably could have stayed here for the rest of the day but we had other views to see.

After this trip, we rode back and had some lunch. As is typical of parks, the lunch was quite expensive so we opted for the cheap fast food and Dick and Karen got their first hint of just how prevalent ham and mozzarella are down here. We got hamburgers and they came with a slice of ham and mozzarella (not advertised). After watching the painted jays get their fill off leftovers outside and finishing our own plates we headed on to other views.

Unfortunately, though the park closes at 6 many of the trails, trains and boats, close earlier. We had seen some of the closing warnings but not all of them and the trail that was highest on Karen’s list was already closed. This was the only trail that boasted a chance to see monkeys and tucans and while that might seem a little hokey, I would’ve really like to see a tucan outside of a zoo. We chose another trail and set off down the path to see what we could see.

The path we chose afforded many panoramic views of the larger falls and close ups of several lesser falls. It was a beautiful sight and I’m  very glad we took the opportunity to go. When we hit the end of the last trail we weren’t ready to leave and Dick and Karen said they would meet us at the exit after a trip through the gift shops. When we separated ourselves from the waterfall we managed to go back up the wrong trail but finally found our way out. After meeting up with Dick and Karen we headed home on the bus exhausted from another awesome day.

As we disembarked at the bus station, the rain stopped and the clouds opened just a bit for an incredible rainbow that you could follow all the way across the arc. And just in case we hadn’t had enough beauty for one day as we left the bus station walking back to the hotel a vibrant sunset painted the sky.

For anyone considering a trip to the falls, I would definitely recommend going. Don’t let the water level at the falls deter you. When we were there the water level was very low and it was still quite impressive. You could see the wear of constant water flow on all the igneous rock. That said, I saw some recent pictures and it looks like some rains increased the level and they’re flowing quite nicely right now. Either way take the trip!

You can see more photos in the photoset on flickr.

Exploring Puerto Iguazu

Alright, I recounted our adventures traveling to and from Iguazu but I didn’t mention anything about our time there. I guess I owe a post about that adventure. The first day we were there Randi and I were absolutely exhausted from the three-day tournament we had just finished so we took it easy. We had a relaxing morning and I got a little overly excited when the hotel had scrambled eggs for breakfast (previous hotels only had bread, ham and cheese). After a few portions of eggs, we obtained a map from the front desk and explored the town around our hotel.

We found we were set back from the downtown so we aimed ourselves to the city center and struck out. (To call it a downtown, might give you the wrong impression. Here’s a map of the area, decide for yourself.) We were searching for three things: a restaurant for dinner (it was Dick and Karen’s [Randi’s parents’] anniversary), the bus terminal to get to the falls and a place where we would have views of Brazil and Paraguay at the same time. The bus station was a quick find and we also found a grocery store and a bank as bonuses along the way. The town was pretty quite, though apparently we got there just as lots of people were leaving. The week before was Semana Santa, an Easter holiday. Many people take the whole week off and Argentina in particular had national holidays Monday and Friday. The town was breathing a collective sigh of relief as we ambled through. We found the bus station with a schedule and fares for the next day and moved on. Karen stopped in a local bookstore and found a guide to the local flora and fauna. We spent the remainder of the trip trying to check off as many species as possible.

We then headed towards the river. As we followed the winding road to the river’s edge, we were greeted by wonderful views and some surprisingly manicured landscaping. As we walked down the hill we noticed flood markers up to 40 meters above normal levels. That would be a pretty incredible flooding but their presence indicates it’s happened in the past and explains why there’s not much in the way of buildings at this level. The road continued around in a circle and as we walked up the hill we found a great restaurant overlooking the river for dinner that night. At the top of the hill, we arrived at Hito Tres Fronteras. This is a landmark overlooking a “T” in the river where each shore is a different country. From here you can see both Brazil and Paraguay.

Perhaps the result of some high water in days gone by.

A monument at the Hito Tres Fronteras. Standing in any one country you can see the other two. If you were really ambitious you could swim out into the river and float in all three at once.

This whole trip only took a few hours but Randi and I were thoroughly exhausted at this point and after inhaling some lunch we collapsed in our hotel room for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening, we all went out to dinner overlooking the river. The food was great, we had a nice bottle of wine and enjoyed being able to share in the celebration of a 30 year milestone!

With full bellies and somehow exhaustion from the day even after long afternoon naps, we returned to the hotel and to our rooms. Tomorrow was going to be a big day and we were all excited to see the falls!

A collection of travel experiences

After the tournament, Randi and I took a trip with her parents to Iguazu Falls. We took a taxi straight from the fields to the airport.  After Randi prompted the driver, I had a great conversation with him for the 30 minute ride to the airport. We talked about everything from Ultimate, to the global recession’s affect on the US, to the area we were driving through and the history of it. It turned out he was a long distance cyclist; he competed in a number of century races. As we approached the airport, he also told us that the entire area the airport is on was filled in from the river. It was a really interesting cab ride and a great start to the trip!

After getting to the airport, we checked in quickly and got through security line very quickly. Security here was about like pre-9/11 levels in the US. It was nice to be in a place where people aren’t subject to so much Security Theatre. When we boarded the plane there were no boarding zones everyone just makes lines up and files in. Since there’s no charge for checking a bag you don’t find people battling for overhead compartments with their overstuffed bags. Although we boarded about 10 minutes before departure, everyone was comfortably seated and we pulled back from the gate right on time. Randi and I slept through the whole trip but apparently for the quick 1:45 minute flight they handed out little meal boxes with a sandwich and some snacks. The flight on the way back from Iguazu, connected in Buenos Aires on the way to Montevideo. Most of the travel was a very similar experience with the quick, efficient security lines and boarding.

We had one little hiccup on the way home. We got in the wrong security line in Buenos Aires. A little explanation is due. There are two airports in Buenos Aires and we flew through the small one, serving mostly regional flights. There are 14 gates with one line for 1-12 and another for 13-14. There’s no signage that we saw saying what the difference is and flights don’t get gate assignments until they are close to boarding. So, when we saw a long line for 1-12 we just followed the crowd. That’s also the line we went through on the way to Iguazu so it was familiar if quite a bit longer. Even with over 150 people ahead of us in line (Dick counted), it only took about 15 minutes to make it to the front. Once there, the ticket checker let us know that since we were taking an international flight we would be leaving out of 13-14. Oops. There was absolutely no line through customs on the other side of the airport and Buquebus had already filled out our exit paperwork so Randi and I quickly made it through the checkpoint. Followed closely by her parents, we navigated the duty free shop and waited for the last leg of our journey. Again the plane boarded in about 10 minutes with very empty overhead bins. When we touched down in Montevideo, I had an unexpected sensation of arriving home. I guess I’m beginning to settle in here.