Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Christmas Special

It’s also Christmas time in Cabarete. I now that at home in Austria it’s very cold at the moment and people are jealous about me being in the Caribbean. Well it is nice to be in the Caribbean but there is always something that limits the pleasure. At the moment we suffer from repeated power cuts. Yesterday the longest one was over 17 hours and also heavy rain started. Heavy rain means heavy tropical rain causing floods and pollutes drinking water. Out of the tap comes now smelly dirty brown water. But talking about good and bad things this is perfect timing! Last week I had two crashes. One was with my ghetto Motorbike. Another Motorbike hit me in the side and I have a few bruises and scars. The other incident was on the big half-pipe when I got  wasted by a dirty drop-in.

On the bright side kiteboarding is quite fun and I have a very good progress. I’m now able to go left and right and even go up the wind. The things I’m working on right now are the turns and to get experienced. Especially now when there are so many kiteboarders in the water its very useful not to run too many of them down. There is also a really interesting fact about tourists. Most of the are Canadians and Americans. But the majority of tourist I’ve met are Canadians. As born in Winnipeg/Manitoba I have also met a guy from my town. That happened for the first time of my life that I have met one from “home”.

I’m very curious how Christmas will be here. I’ve been told that the 24th is a family day and also a reunion day where big families come together and new family members get introduced to the clan. As the availability of power is probably getting worse I want to wish you all already now peaceful Christmas all over the world!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

First week in the Dominican Republic

After a week in the Dominican Republic it's time to give a first overview how life is here on the island. I am staying at the extreme hotel in Cabarete. It is located at the kite beach before the city, or better village centre. So far I had a successful time here sports wise. From the beginning on I took kitesurfing lessons and now I am able to kite. All I need now is just a bit fine-tuning and practice. then I'll be able to go on my own wherever I want. My instructor Raoul was very helpful. He is Dominican and lives in the nearby village.

The other nice facts here are that there is a big half-pipe located at the backyard of the hotel. Last weekend I have been on it and it is really massive. In skater terms, it is a 40 ft. wide funramp (transition 2.5 m, approx 8 ft. 3”) with five different sections respectively. Extensions starting with an height of 6ft (1.8m) leading over 3 extensions into a final part with 10ft. (3.3 m, transition 3 m) – smooth plywood surface, continuous metal coping everywhere. Sure it has seen better times but I'm used to the ghetto approach here on the island - You take what you get! The biggest drawback with the half pipe is that it is only operational on the weekend. During the week the gym besides the hotel has occupied it.

Playa Encuentro is the prime surfing beach at the north shore. It provides fairly good waves in the morning. The tide is here not notable but the trade winds set it about 13:00 every day. The best plan is to go surfing in the morning, have a rest and then go kiteboarding at the evening. That makes a successful day and makes the Caribbean exciting.

The scooter in the picture above is my scooter. Today it had a breakdown because the kick-shift gear paddle has gone loose and I only was able to drive with the first shift - that really sucks!!

Next week the holiday season sets in and it will be very busy here. Yesterday I have counted 45 kites on the water and it will go up to 80 at peak time. I really hope that the holiday season will soon be over and the number of people here will go down. I am now already getting curious how Cuba will be - Let's find it out!!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Nightmare Airports

I have travelled thousands of miles in the last few years but this experience at San Francisco International (SFO) was really outstanding. On my flight from Hawaii to San Francisco I have already learned what to expect from an American carrier – less to nothing. Poor service, no food, not even snacks, some soft drinks but not enough for a long journey. The flight was 5 hours long!

Having the previous flight in mind I wanted to be early at SFO to have enough time for the check-in procedure. It turned out that it was a good idea to repack my luggage because I was just in limit with my check-in bags. I am carrying now 17kg weight on my photo backpack and messenger bag. The check-in is a self service counter but it only works smoothly for people with a US passport. Others have to type in all the details of the passport on a touch screen. So I had to call for assistance when the terminal locked up. The surfboard was not a big problem. A quick notice that I have to pay 100$ for the excess dimensions of the bag was fine with me. The shock came when the American Airlines assistant asked me for my return ticket. I didn’t have one because I wanted to book it when I was sure where and when I fly back to San Francisco. She told me without a valid return ticket she will not let me on board and offered me a ticket for 700$ - One way and without taxes!! Of course economy! I wasn’t pleased with this approach so I have called the chief operation officer in charge to figure the problem out. We started to shout around and he insisted that I have a return ticket because it is a policy. He was also not very helpful – the only suggestion was to come back with a written statement from the DR consulate that it is fine to enter the country without a return ticket. I started arguing and pulling out tricks of the box but all didn’t work out – deadlock! Suddenly we’ve found a solution: A refundable return ticket. I own now a useless return ticket from Santo Domingo (DR) to San Jose (Costa Rica). Once I am in the Dominican Republic I can go to an American Airlines service desk, give my ticket back and get a refund. All the trouble just for a lousy policy!

I have visited so many countries this year and many of them had the return ticket policy. Even it is required for the US. But I never have been asked to show the return ticket and many times I didn’t owe one at the time of entering the country. I run quite often in this policy trap in the US. I don’t want to follow illogical and stupid policies just because some bureaucrats are too stupid to figure out intelligent solutions. Many people agreed to my arguments but refused to make an exception of the policy because they fear that they get in serious trouble. It’s really obvious here that the country has a lively military background. People are treated in a very rude way and they seem to accept it. Orders are given by securities and authorities and the people do what they say without questioning if the order is reasonable or not.

Another highlight are the airports themselves. It is quite obvious that something is going wrong here in the States. The airports (speaking of SFO, MIA and JFK) are old, lacking of infrastructure and service facilities and could be run more efficient as other big international airports. Travelling here is really a tough job.

Soon I will leave to my final destination Puerto Plata. I’m thinking of the full pleasure program today when I’m finally at my hotel: Rum and cigars. I have even bought a cigar magazine and learned that the Dominican Republic produces more types of cigars as Cuba.

The final highlights of the day - yes - more then one was at the Miami International Airport. Before the counter opened the clerk (from Dominican origin) started singing a song with support of a Caribbean scratch instrument. That was a great and very energetic performance and the people loved that. He even sung a second song and also one encore. That was the positive highlight - the downer in Miami was that I have recognised after getting seated in the air-plane that no one stamped my passport with the leave stamp and also I had the green card stapled in it. It's quite likely that I face problems coming back for my return flight to Europe. The immigration officers will blame me for violating the immigration laws and I will tell them that someone of their staff didn't follow their own policies. Big fun expected for the next American flight adventure.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

San Francisco

I've just started to write this post as I've received a message that the big wave contest on Hawaii just has started. Now I write and can watch the live-stream at the same time.

The final days in Hawaii have been great. The backpackers camp had a thanksgiving dinner and supplied the turkey. The guests have provided the side dishes and with some booze we had a great evening. Many good surfers also have stayed at this place so it was great to meet these people. At the end of the stay was a day trip to Hawaii, the big island. It was a nice day travelling around the island with a tour group and seeing the volcano's and the devastating effects of volcanic activities.

After spending the final day at Waikiki beach I had an early flight to San Francisco. It was great to meet Joke and Will again at their place. We have a great time here in San Francisco and we explored the whole city and surroundings! For me it was very interesting to explore the city. Hispanics are here in a great number as well as many Asians. San Francisco has also an European touch and also Europe is quite present here. I also wonder about the imperial system. I thought it would be more consistent but the metric system is also present. For example skateboard wheels are measured in mm not in inch.

We had some very nice but rather cold days here with temperatures below 10°C with party fog and rain. But that is quite normal for this time of the year and I look forward for the Caribbean tomorrow. Today I plan to go to the city again to a former hippie area. The place still is quite lively and the street is full of smoke supply shops and little eateries and other independent shops.

As mentioned I will pack tomorrow again my big bags and travel at night to the Dominican Republic. I am very curious if I get a pick-up at the airport and find the eXtreme hotel.