KAYAK CLAMMING ON THE EASTERN SHORE

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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Growing up we would spend the summers in Rhode Island.  Some of my most vivid memories are of clamming with my dad – walking through tall reeds and wet muddy sand to get to a favorite clamming spot.  My dad would rake up the clams and then I would reach down in the murky churned up water, barely keeping my head above water, to retrieve them.  He always refused to pay for a permit to clam even though I’m pretty sure it would’ve only cost like $7.  Being under the age of 14 I wasn’t required to have a permit and, as such, I was the designated clam digger.  I’m not sure what age I was when these outings began, but I think I was pretty little.  We’d bring our haul home then experiment with clam chowder recipes – my favorite soup to this day.

On Father’s Day I wanted to recreate a version of that experience.  I searched around on the internet and found a company called Southeast Expeditions that leads kayak clamming tours on the Eastern Shore.  We woke up early, met our guide, hopped in our boats and paddled out to a sandbar.  We walked around the sandbar digging our toes in the muddy sand in search of bivalves.  Within a few minutes I found one, then another and another.  Our pile mounted and we left with nearly 50 pounds of clams!  These were big quahog clams, not the little cherrystone steamer clams.  We got home and tried our hand at fritters and then made chowder.

Lucky for my dad, there is no permit required for clamming in the state of Virginia and so he was happy to do all his own clam digging.  Poetic justice and a happy Father’s Day, indeed.

 

[ Our experience with Southeast Expeditions was fantastic.  Our guide was wonderful and even sent a handwritten post card the following week.  I really cannot say enough good things about the company (even though I wasn’t paid or perked to do so). ]

MONDAY: ANTI BAD VIBE SHIELD

Monday, August 18, 2014

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And just like that it’s Monday morning.  Summer weekends slip by so quickly, don’t they?  Quiet Friday nights preparing for long runs, early Saturday mornings logging miles, then recovering on Saturday afternoons.  A few lazy hours on Sunday and then, somehow, it’s time for the work week to begin again.  Today I made ice cream and then Ryan and I snuck out on our bikes for an early evening ride before a family dinner — we’re doing our best to squeeze every last ounce of sunlight out of these summer days.  Here’s to a work week full of good vibes…and summer fun.

[ photo taken by me at Deux Ex Machina in Bali summer 2012 ]

 

LANDED: GENEVA

Friday, August 15, 2014

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In a rather sudden turn of events, I found myself on a plane to Geneva on [a recent] Monday.

I’ve never been to Geneva, so I was thrilled at the opportunity, but also slightly terrified at the speaking engagement set before me.  This was my first interaction with the UN system and it was entirely fascinating – thousands of people meeting, speaking, writing, setting policy.

I woke up the morning of the speech feeling vaguely nauseas and very nervous.  I walked into the lobby of the hotel where the event would be held later that evening and I printed a few notes.  I sat down feeling overwhelmed and underqualified.  I knew I needed to recalibrate.

I’ve carried this phrase with me since I was tapped to talk:  “presence and authenticity matter more than planning or perfection.”  I turned the words over in my head a few times and noticed the parallel in my feelings to a moment during a recent race.  I consciously replaced wishing I had prepared more with gratitude for the opportunity to speak about something I care deeply about.  The knots in my stomach started to release.  The fear was still real even as I approached the podium, but I took a deep breath and reminded myself of how grateful I was to be present, to have a voice.

A posture of gratitude allows us to summon the courage to show up.  It offers us a sense of perspective and the ability to acknowledge the fear and then move through it.  And, perhaps most importantly, gratitude allows the clarity to see through fear and understand that what is in front of us is a precious gift.

STRANDED IN HONG KONG

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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I fell asleep as soon as I boarded my flight in Manila and awoke three hours later in a perfectly groggy post-nap state. It took me about three minutes to realize that we were not in the air. I double-checked my watch then looked out the window to confirm we were still on the ground. Ends up the flush lever on one of the toilets was broken and they were replacing the entire toilet on the tarmac. Thus began the biggest fiasco in the history of my personal travels.

I arrived in Hong Kong well after all flights to the U.S. and Europe departed so I was stuck for 24 hours. I was extraordinarily irritated and could not believe there was no option that didn’t leave me stranded for an entire day. I received a hotel voucher and hopped the shuttle to the Novotel. This is where things [temporarily] started to look up. The hotel was gorgeous. A glass wall separated the shower from the rest of the room allowing for sweeping city views from the bathtub.

The hotel is connected to a mall which is connected to the terminal for Ngong Ping 360, a cable car system between Tung Chung Town Centre and Lantau Island.   Now realizing that I had been given a free 24 hour excursion in Hong Kong, I dropped my bags in the room, bought a ticket and hopped into a cable car. Dense fog obscured the mountain and sea views on the ascent, but I had a glass-bottom cable car to myself and the trip through the clouds was peaceful. The cool, humid air was welcome after being stuck in an airplane for nearly ten hours.

I disembarked and walked around Ngong Ping Village, then through the Po Lin Monastery. It was extraordinarily quiet, save for the occasionally moo of the resident cows. The fog lingered and I wandered about aimlessly for a couple of hours.

I took one of the last cable cars of the day back down and the fog cleared enough to see the Tian Tan Buddha Statue, the world’s largest tallest seated outdoor bronze Buddha.

I noticed a fellow passenger wearing a Garmin watch and then saw that she had on an Ironman t-shirt under her raincoat. When I asked her about the race she looked very surprised that I recognized the logo. We spent the next fifteen minutes trading race stories and discovered that we had both been at the Chicago Marathon last year. She gave me a few tips for running the New York City Marathon. She was from Mexico and was also traveling alone – backpacking through Asia at the end of a graduate school study abroad experience, an extended vacation before jumping into her next Ironman training cycle.

I wished her good luck at Ironman Cozumel then disembarked feeling restored and grateful to be stranded.   As I walked back to the hotel I thought about the endurance sports community and how unique it is to feel instantly connected through sport – what a gift to be able to recognize a kindred spirit even while traveling all alone in a cable car in Hong Kong.

PALMS IN THE PHILIPPINES

Monday, August 11, 2014

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palm-trees-over-blue-water-philippinesAnd because palms are so in right now, this is a gratuitous photographic dose of palm trees from the Philippines.

 

SNORKELING IN CEBU

Friday, August 8, 2014

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We get back in the car and our patron saint, driver and guide to peak life experiences, Rodi, inquires as to whether we would now like to go to the “white sands beaches.”  We nod, then fall asleep.  We wake up driving down teeny tiny gravel roads between houses and shops and food stalls.  We get asked to pay a toll to go down the beach road.  Then just two minutes down the road, a group of men stop our car and ask us to pay again.  By this point we’ve all had it.  We are all well-traveled and quite comfortable taking a hard stance on bribes or at least knowing when the request is utterly ridiculous, unenforceable and inconsequential.  We say no, tell them we are going to a local resort and drive on.  Eventually we land at the Dolphin Inn and situate ourselves at a table just next to the water.  I order a coconut and chili king prawns.  We sunbathe and eat and drink and nap.  We get snorkels and swim out into the water.  There are fish of every color.  I see a white puffer fish, blue velvet starfish, red pointy starfish, urchins, a sea horse, a five foot long sea snake, anemones, and a giant clam.  There is coral of every imaginable variety.  In keeping with the “utterly surreal experiences” theme of the day, we come to find out that this is one of the premier diving spots in the world.  We laugh and shake our heads – what ridiculously good luck.

KAWASAN FALLS, PHILIPPINES

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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Entirely blissed out after swimming with whale sharks, we get back in the car and Rodi says, “ma’am, sirs, you would like to see a waterfall now?”  The answer is an obvious yes.  I saw a sign for a waterfall as we drove into Oslob and I remembered reading on Trip Advisor about some nearby falls that could round out a day trip itinerary to Oslob from Cebu City.  I didn’t remember the pictures being particularly impressive, but I am never one to turn down waterfalls.

A few minutes down the road I realize we have turned and are driving away from the falls.  Suddenly I am very, very excited.  I ask Rodi if we are going to the falls with the bamboo mats, he nods.  Doing a bit of trip research on Pinterest I came across an image of Kawasan Falls.  Situated on the opposite side of the island from where we are staying, I write it off as something that isn’t going to happen on this trip.  Our time for leisure is short and the priority is whale shark spotting.  Rodi notifies us that it is nearly two hours away, but he doesn’t mind driving.

We open packages of dried mango and coconut and pass them back and forth.  Time passes easily as we wind our way up the coast through the vibrant green landscape.  We pull into a church parking lot, pay 100 pesos to park and are immediately swarmed by “guides.”  Rode says that he will be our guide and we proceed to walk down a trail for about a kilometer.  The trail was a horticulturists dream.  As a fern lover I could not believe what I was seeing.  It was like strolling through the tropical plant section of my local nursery:  maidenhair ferns, croton, bougainvillea, birds of paradise, palms.  A bridge crosses the water and a few little boys are playing on a rope swing.

We arrive at the falls and they are utterly surreal.  The water is an almost milky blue and there is a large bamboo mat empty and waiting for us.  We pay 300 pesos to rent the raft and three men use ropes tied across the pool to pull us into, under and behind the falls.  The water is freezing cold – I mean take your breath away cold.  We lie down on our bellies and the water pours down on our backs.  The pressure is intense, like a human car wash and I come out on the other side feeling slightly battered with hair covering and plastered to my face.  We laugh and do it again.

We get back to shore and are harassed for an additional 300 pesos for each of the men who were “guiding” us on the raft.  We are all vaguely irritated, but hand over the cash utterly disinterested in engaging any further with the fact that we are getting taken advantage of.  The day had just been too good to worry about getting ripped off for $5.

(more…)

SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS

Monday, August 4, 2014

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We leave the hotel at 5:06am.  Our driver is a shy young guy named Rodi.  He’s arrives at the hotel early and I’m a bit surprised that he’s already outside waiting for us as soon as we’re ready to go.  Rodi is wearing a bright yellow polo shirt and heavily starched white pants with a well-defined pleat down the front.  He’s clean cut and reserved, and we spend our first thirty minutes in the car snaking our way out of Cebu City through dark back roads.  The only other people outside at that hour are runners and cyclists.  We are groggy and quiet.  Out of the corner of my eye I see a Harrod’s department store and I think of the last time I was in London – delayed for 12 hours at Heathrow, a visit to the iconic establishment was in order.

Out of the city, we drive through an industrial district and as we pass the port the sun starts to peek up over the horizon.  By 6:00 the radio is on and we are chatting.  I munch on some corn flakes that I picked up at the grocery store the day before.  We pass through the suburbs, then the landscape changes dramatically.  Dense urban areas give way to lush green banana leaves and palm fronds.  We wind our way down the coast and just before 8:00 we arrive in Oslob at the aptly named “Whale Shark Briefing Center.”

There are a lot of people milling about and I start to question whether this is going to be the serene underwater experience I had hoped for.  The sand is covered with tumbled pieces of white coral reflecting the sun.  As my nephew would say, it is so shiny outside.  Bright orange life jackets hang across the ledge of the open air Briefing Center; I notice the contrast of the bright white sunlight and sand and blue water.  We sign in, then sit down in front of a big diagram of the ocean, canoes and a whale shark.  We are told not to try to ride the whale sharks or to wear sunscreen in the water.  Eager pupils that we are, we ask if any whale sharks have been spotted so far that morning and the instructor looks at us incredulously (what a stupid question) and nods.

We rent underwater cameras and then we are led to a canoe.  The canoes are loaded down with tourists, but somehow my colleague and I get our own boat.  Two guides paddle us out into the water for no more than two minutes.  We can’t be more than a hundred feet offshore, but we stop.  The guide points at what looks like a big shadow about fifteen feet from us and says very matter-of-factly, “There it is.  Jump in.”  I am in shock that the whale shark is just right there, I mean literally right there, and so I do as I’m told and I jump in.

The guides jump in right behind us, take our cameras and say, “Please dive down ma’am.  Okay, one more time, please ma’am, thank you.”  The guides are relentlessly committed to getting the perfect shot.  I keep diving down swimming by the creature’s fins, feeling the water moved by his giant tail.  I watch his mouth open and close in search of food.

There’s a school of fish around the whale shark’s tail and a few larger fish swimming under his belly.  I look down and see a group of scuba divers near the ocean floor about thirty feet below.  My skin and the whale shark’s skin are marbled in rays of sunlight.  I dive down and swim beside this biggest fish of sea, following his tail through the water.  His movements are slow and graceful.  I come up for air and the whale shark comes up to feed on crill near the surface.  I tread water watching him swim along.

We swim around for 30 minutes or so.  It’s utterly surreal – the entire time I cannot believe what I am seeing.  Two more whale sharks come by.  I felt the urge to wipe my eyes to verify that what I was seeing was actually a reality.  On a total high we climb back into the boat and paddle ashore.  We sit at a nearby beach cafe and take it all in.  We acknowledge how absurd the whole experience is and then proceed to rehash every detail.  All of our sentences start with “can you believe that…”

And, quite honestly, I kind of can’t.

OSLOB, PHILIPPINES

Friday, August 1, 2014

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Oslob-whale-shark-watching-canoes-640-kwhatchFrom the time I boarded the plane on my way to the Philippines, I was dead set on swimming with whale sharks.  I had no idea where the whale sharks were or where one could go about swimming with them, but I was wholly committed.  First, we were told we could see the whale sharks in Butanding.  Ends up that Butanding is not a place, it’s the Tagalog word for whale shark, so for a few days I sounded like an idiot asking local folks how to get to Butanding.  In the end, we figured out that we could see whale sharks at the southern end of the island of Cebu in a place called Oslob.  Lucky for us, we had a wide open Saturday to make it happen.

LANDED: THE PHILIPPINES

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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Thanks to two work trips, I’ve spent one month of 2014 in the Philippines.  I was able to venture to several islands across the archipelago and after several pretty incredible experiences, I am able to confirm that there is some truth to the Department of Tourism’s ubiquitous motto:  “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

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