Moscow sidebar

Quick post on my initial thoughts on Moscow and our experience…

First of all, Moscow is a huge city and the key sites seem to attract all of the World Cup visitors. We are averaging about 17,500 steps a day.

Moscow has done a great job welcoming the high influx of fans. It appears they put their collective political and social backing behind the hosting of the games: the streets are immaculate, the new sod still has the seams, the lighting on the sites are bright, the people are friendly, the volunteers all speak English; and young. It seems like the new generation has embraced English while the older generation is not as well-versed. The people are genuinely friendly and will offer assistance or guidance, as needed. The servers are great, although maybe not as expedient as the US. Overall, the people are not effusive and they almost have a reluctant friendliness or begrudging friendliness. They would offer any help but it isn’t natural.

The subways have recently added English in the cars and they have cars running continuously. At the games, there are hundreds if not thousands of young military enrollees lining the exit routes to ensure an orderly exit.

The entire logistic process has been impressive.

That being said, we still struggle at times with the exits or best routes and if it should take 5 minutes we can easily make it take 25. If it is 15, we find a way to make it 45…our intrepid navigator, Fred, has now been fondly nicknamed Fredgellan for his innate ability to take us the long way.

Moscow, while the capital, and granted we were not in the financial district, doesn’t seem to be a huge commercial center. The bakery next door opened at 8 and the streets were empty at 7 and 8…maybe they are late starters to meet the other global markets. They could learn a thing or two from us. One of our veterans loves going “full facial” with the face paint. Don’t judge, he’s only 60.

As we approached the face-painter for the Germany game, he insisted we join him in his passion.

He asked the price, which was 1,000 Rubles. He replied emphatically that it was too much and he wanted to buy four and we should get a discount.

He countered with 4,000 for four. She accepted. Trump would be proud. We are good capitalists.

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Russia Day 2: FanFest

After our night of building international relations, we wanted to visit the Kremlin to check in on our new-found fame. The Kremlin hadn’t heard about us, nor were we the only tourists in Red Square for lunch.

After lunch, we headed over to the FanFest to watch some of the games. The set-up was incredible with the backdrop of Moscow State and downtown Moscow flanking the big screens.

Great Spain game…and then to a great restaurant that loved the fact that we were supporting Russia in Moscow. Gifts and vodka ensued- the vodka was housemade specialties made from bread, chiles, Ukrainian kids and fruits.

Dinner was at 1:00 AM, and we happened to go back for lunch at the same place at noon. It is the first time I have had dinner and lunch at the same place on the same day. Not lunch and dinner but dinner and lunch. I recommend the former not the latter.

Russia Day 1: Moscow

Yuri, Igor and Dmitry walk into a bar. No, that isn’t a bad joke. Those are the first three Russians we met.

Wearing Russian jerseys helped break the ice and by the first goal, 12′ in, Yuri bought us a round of vodka. By the second goal at 43′, Dmitry had joined our group and was in our group. The goal for Russia at 78′ was about the time Igor invited us to play hockey with him; the 90′ goal was when we were invited to Igor’s house for dinner and the 93′ goal was, well, just another shot of vodka.

If the Russan’s were surprised to see a group of Americans in Russia when the US didn’t qualify, they were even more surprised to see us all wearing customized Russian jerseys and leading the bar in “Ru…sss…ia” chants. I guess not a lot of Russians are coming to the US in 2026 wearing US jerseys singing “USA!”. We couldn’t walk past a group or table without taking pictures or being offered vodka. The former was ok, the latter didn’t end well for us. One lost phone, two lost people, and a lost Uber ride to Siberia were some of the casualties of the first night.

Not surprisingly, they thought we had American doppelgängers. Maybe less surprising considering Russian culture, our doppelgängers were 1980’s celebrities: Danny Devito and Jack Nicholson.

But, we found people that were our actual doppelgängers:

Russia: Day 1

Having read Red Notice and Red Sparrow, akin to reading “The People’s History of the United States”, I felt I was up to speed on Russian history and culture and ready to embark on my first trip into the Motherland. This article on Russian hooliganism also helped get acquainted with the culture… http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/23659183/world-cup-2018-russia-new-school-hooligan-culture

Following my immersion into Russian culture, I felt I needed a little soccer history, and US soccer history, as this event was bereft of our participation. This podcast https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/american-fiasco/id1389231303?mt=2&i=1000412960034 as an excellent start, even if it led me to this video of our 1990 team. https://youtu.be/fzLtF_PxbYw

The group for this year’s Cup consists of 7 holdovers from our trip from Brazil and one that went to both Brazil and South Africa with me, Chris Wode. Chris’ wife is en route tomorrow with their unborn soccer fan in tow. One participant, a holdover from Brazil and a frequent world traveler, misplaced his passport yesterday and was at the US Consulate all day trying to get a new one. He missed our flight and as of this posting, we are unsure if he is joining…

Speaking of our flight, it is an 11:40 minute direct flight on Aeroflot. So far, my initial perception is that the Russian language is impossible to understand, the service is good , the food above average and the flight attendants are superficially nice but have little patience. Maybe not so different than United or American…resting bitch face seems to be an obligatory requirement for hire.

The current itinerary is to land in Moscow on the 14th, the start of the tournament. Our first day will be to get acquainted in Moscow and head to the FanFest to take in the Spain/Portugal game.

Day 2 is is our first game: Messi’s Argentina vs. the tournament darling, Iceland. The size of Anaheim, Iceland is making its tournament debut following their surprise showing at the 2016 European Championship. This game, aside from the Final, is the only game that sold out during the pre-tournament ticket phase. To learn more about Iceland’s improbable run and team, check this out.

http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/23793289/iceland-world-cup-run-enthralled-nation

My first foray into foreign World Cups, South Africa, was comprised of both games and local tourism. Argentina vs South Korea one day, a great white shark dive the next. Germany vs. Australia one day, a safari the next two. Lion Park during the day…and Cameroon vs. Denmark at night. US vs. Slovenia was the highlight with a late tie for the US in historic Ellis Park, a famous rugby ground.

Brazil was not as nuanced…drink at the beach during the day…game the next.Rinse and repeat. Salvador and Rio were great host cities and offered insight into a quaint beach area and slave entry into South America in Salvador, and then the bustling Rio as a counterbalance.

Russia is using 11 host cities for the tournament and our tour will be covered in two host cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. Following the aforementioned Argentina game, we will cap off our Moscow stay with Germany vs. Mexico. Coincidentally, this is our third Cup in a row with Germany. It is a coincidence, because we book our cities and buy our tickets before we know which teams are playing.

On Monday, we take a ‘high speed’ train from Moscow to St. Petersburg for the next pair of games: host country Russia vs. Mo Salah’s Egypt and the last match of our trip on Friday: Neymar’s Brazil vs. our region’s runner-up, Costa Rica.

We have two more days in St. Pete before heading back to Moscow on an early flight and then home and begin prepping for Qatar…

50 Shades of Fogo

On an unseasonably cold Sunday at Nansen, Fram was met with a resurgent side in Elite FC. I am not sure they quite understand the definition of Elite…you know, with 12 losses and all. But at least they have 0 ties. They lead the league in fewest ties. They are Elite in not tying.

As Fram was set to lineup, Coach Bill Mikkelchick worked on his tactical prep of the Fram squad. He astutely noted that Elite FC have a lot of players, so be aware of that. He then noted that they will get tired quickly so we should run a lot. Feeling prepared, Fram took the field….with 10 players. Arsene Mikkelsub, in a punitive move to bench a top striker, started Sheldon not only on the bench but in the locker room. Actually, that wasn’t Coach Mikkelcalm’s doing. Sheldon decided to change shorts as the game started. Erik was super ok with this move and happily tried to get Sheldon into the game at the first available moment. Christophe, looking confused, offered his back up tights. Sheldon said he was ok with this shorts and we were all set after a few minutes.

Adding to the concoction of Mt. St. Mikkelsen was the fact that Paul forgot his jersey halfway to the game(it was in his Uggs bag), Tim had to pitch to his son’s tee-ball team and Chirgy was just coming at half. Adding to the revolving door of Fram players, Brian, Eddie and Mauricio were leaving at half and Wode was a no-show, attending the ever-popular convention, “First Annual HavapooCon for People That Only Post Pictures of Their  Dog Wearing Soccer Jerseys and Halloween Costumes.” Somewhere, Adam Pomfret is jealous.

Fram came out and expectedly had 75% of the possession but was not creating many dangerous chances. Elite was surprisingly creating some counters against Fram but Fram was solid in defense…less a few wayward passes out of the back.

Then Fram got on the board.

Magic and Kareem. Goodman and Mackerer. Montana and Rice. Great sports duos. Once again, they came through. After Fram figured out that there was space on the wings, they began to open up Elite. After a solid build up, Fram sent the ball wide to Mackerer, who spotted a streaking Goodman. Goodman volleyed in the cross from 18 out to put the hosts up 1-0. Screams from the bench were for Goodman to improve his celebration. He said you need to act like you have been there before. But, has he? Anyway, halftime came with Fram up 1-0.

Tony Robbinssen came in to espouse positivism and reaching our potential. Here is how he asked about Brian’s hurt shoulder,”No more bad balls back there, Brian.”

Chirgy reminded us to play it early but if he gets it, expect him to take a few touches. Fram came out and had a clear cut chance but Chirgy tried to play it first time…well, he did, right out of bounds.

Fram continued to dominate and netted their second when perennial playmaker, Jeff Goodman whipped a perfect left footed cross to a streaking Todd, who hammered home on a clean finish. 2-0.

Fram almost had a third when, now left back, Mackerer blasted a one-timer that was cleared off the line by the Elite keeper. Lags, quite impressed with the attempt, added that he was too impressed to comment on the shot. Well, moments later he had the ball on Fram’s half with no one around. Lags took a birthday touch, looked around and his failing 42 year old body crumpled and led to an Elite counter. Luckily, it wasn’t elite, as half our defense was laughing out loud during the attack.

As the game wound down, their central midfielder came in with a high, two-studded challenge to Paul’s shins. Paul was gracious in the player’s apology…as he was quickly shown red. No chest or neck stomps followed.

Fram took the 3 points and enjoyed some beers in the locker room to celebrate Tony’s 50 years, Lags’42 and the fact that Brendo now brings veggie plates to the post game celebrations.

*Editor’s note: Blasted and Streaking are used generously.

 

Isla Mujeres: Whale Shark Diving

The whale shark trip was borne from a golf tournament. At a charity fundraiser for Boys Hope/Girls Hope, I was in a bidding war for a trip to go whale shark diving in Isla Mujeres. I had played in the same golf tournament the year prior and had lost out on the same trip, so I was a little more compelled to win this time. The wine helped. The bidding got to the point where I wasn’t comfortable going any higher and I conceded. However, the auctioneer asked the charity if they would be willing to offer two trips for both the top bidders. The trip was under-promised and it over-delivered. The pamphlet for the trip stated that we won three days of shark diving off of Cancun, our hotel and the airport transfers to the port of Puerto Juarez. Puerto Juarez is the ferry port in Cancun, which runs non-stop ferries to Isla Mujeres. This quaint island, http://www.isla-mujeres.net/, is about a 20 minute, or four horribly sung American rock songs sung by a Mexican street artist, ferry ride from Cancun. Starting from Orange County, we connected through Dallas, and ended up in Cancun around 4:30 PM. Cancun is in the Central Time Zone. We arrived on Isla Mujeres and were met by our trip organizer, photographer and resident Isla Mujeres local, Marshall Lally @marshall_lally. Anytime you get met with a golf cart, you know you are in a good place. Our hotel was a short ride- which most places would be since the island is only 5 miles from tip to tip. We were staying on the Northern tip in a hotel called the Playa Media Luna. What it lacks in luxury amenities, it makes up with in charm, location and views.

View from the room

View from the room

We rinsed the travel off of us, grabbed a margarita at the adjacent bar, and headed into the main commercial area for dinner. One thing was instantly apparent. Isla Mujeres wasn’t Cabo, and in a good way. Isla Mujeres is an island of 5,000 inhabitants; Cancun is 1,000,000. The former is a summer destination for the latter. Isla, as it is affectionately known, has more Mexican tourists than Americans, which is also a good thing. While we were certainly were approached by solicitors for music, cigars and to come into their restaurant, it was no where near the level of Cabo, which felt like we were the last consumers on earth.

Golf carts are the main mode for the tourists, and the locals opt for scooters. I kept thinking they had a civic meeting and tried to come up with the most unsafe method of transportation.

Moderator: Please provide suggestions, guys. What else can we use?

Crowd: Unicycles?!

Moderatator: No, but I like where your head is at. Keep going.

Crowd: Skateboards. Bikes? I got it- scooters.

Moderator: Good idea. Unstable and potentially hazardous. But, let’s make it more unsafe. Let’s recommend that you all ride two, three or four at a time. And bring your kids- don’t give them helmets- and if you have baby bjorns, please use those, too.

Anyway, I digress. After a great dinner at Lola Valentino, we turned in to get some rest and for the early start for the whale sharks.

The cute commercial street...

The cute commercial street…

Day 1: I will start by saying that I have always been fascinated by whale sharks and have had swimming them on my bucket list. With that being said, I wasn’t quite sure what it entailed. We met in the lobby at 7 and took the golf cart back near the ferry landing. Our boat was a 36 foot tuna fishing boat, and was reserved for four of us, plus Marshall. We had our captain and first mate as well. The fellow swimmers, and co-winners of the trip, were Doug and Dana McCaulley. Getting thrown into this experience in another country with people you don’t know can go one of two ways:epic or disastrous. We landed on the former. Doug and Dana were great to spend time with, swim with, and drink with… Back to the shark. The whale sharks arrive in Isla in June and stay until mid-August. They are brought here to eat of the abundance of bonito spawn/eggs in the water. When I say in the water, I mean everywhere. When you get out of the water, you are dotted with eggs. Our captain, Rogelio, is about as type-cast a fisherman as you can get. Tanned, sunglasses tan around his eyes, handy and knowledgeable. Rogelio came across the sharks 30 years ago while fishing and would see them annually over the next 25 years. In 2007, he ran a few tourist trips out to the sharks. In 2008, he ran more trips, and from that point on, a veritable eco-tourism economy was hatched. Now, about 40 boats head out each morning during shark season. Incredibly, they work in tandem and collaboratively, fanning out across the expanse of the ocean. The sharks are 20 miles off the coast, or about an hour boat ride. After checking the previous day’s location of the sharks, and currents, they have an idea where they will be. But, this is Mother Nature, and the sharks are certainly not on our schedule. You are not guaranteed to find them. After 20 miles, Rogelio slows the boat, and Juan, our first mate, sits atop the third level of our boat on the tuna tower. The water is typically rather calm, and warm.

Our boat...the Lilly M.

Our boat…the Lilly M.

About 80 degrees, which is great for us, too. Juan is looking for the dorsal fin and the large tail fin to pierce the water; after all, the sharks are skimming the surface for their food. Each of the boat’s captains is reporting over the radio on where he is and what he sees, or doesn’t see. Upon seeing a shark, or sharks, he alerts the others, and it is a mass convergence at those coordinates. After the chaos on the radio, and arriving at the location of the sharks, we were told to get geared up and ready to jump in. That’s it. Swim. Swim next to them, at them and don’t touch them. A few boats were dropping their guests in near, and almost on the sharks. It looked like a war scene, with troops deploying into a battle zone. “Go, go, go! he screamed. “Here he comes- go! In the water!” I jumped. Amy jumped right after. I cleared my snorkel, found Amy and looked down. The water was a beautiful blue hue, but no bottom to be seen. We were 20 miles out and the water is around 120 feet deep.

Love the spots on this one, both on the shark and reflecting.

Love the spots on this one, both on the shark and reflecting.

Then, you see it. Sometimes it is a mouth. Sometimes, a rough outline of something big. Really big. Really, really big. The shape comes into focus- usually the spots take shape and you can get a bearing of which way the shark is heading. Ideally, he is coming straight at you. They swim slowly, and open their huge mouths to let the water pass through, filtering thousands of pounds of fish eggs into their stomach. The first shark I saw, I swam as fast as I could toward it. They may swim slow most of the time, but they are also 40 feet long and weigh 30 tons. They are strong, and can be fast. As I swam toward him, he slowly changed course and swam by. There is a scene in Jaws, when Roy Schneider and Richard Dreyfuss see that shark for the first time as it slowly swims by. It was the impetus for the famous line, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat…” As that first shark swam by me, I thought the same thing. It just kept going and going. The tail, propelling the massive shark through the water, elegantly and serenely. The goofy mouth, polka dots and adolescent eyes betraying its regal nature.

Eggs taste better than humans.

Eggs taste better than humans.

It is a shark. But, primarily eats plankton, fish eggs, or on occasion, small fish. Not humans. We/I never felt in danger or threatened, although they probably felt disturbed while trying to eat. Marshall told a story that a kid must have designed the whale shark. They are huge. Swim slowly on the surface, don’t mind humans and are polka dotted. After scaring away the first shark, you begin to get the hang of it. There is a scene in the movie, “Colors”, when Sean Penn and Robert Duvall are talking. Penn is the newbie and Duvall is the seasoned veteran. Duvall tells the story of two bulls overlooking a flock of cows. The macho one says to the other, “I’m gonna run down there and mate with that one!” The wiser bull, scoffs at the younger one. The younger one looks over indignantly, and asks,”What’s your problem?” The wise bull looks at him and chides the younger one,”I’m gonna walk down there and mate with them all.” That message was the same for the whale sharks. Swim slowly and don’t use your arms to swim and splash. Slowly kick next to the sharks and you get a longer, better experience. After that first one, we had that experience. Swimming slowly, we could amble up next to sharks, and vice versa. They were everywhere, corralled by the outlying boats, we floated in the water with these massive creatures.

amy side view_shark

Amy hanging with her shark.

At one point I was swimming next to a shark and I was resigned to let it go. I felt a wack on my leg. I assumed it was another swimmer pushing by me and trying to nudge me out of the way. (That happens) As I turned around to see who was impatiently hitting me, I realized it was the shark’s massive tail fin pushing me out of the way. I was a fly it was brushing away from its face on a hot day, most likely not even knowing it had touched me. There were times when I would be swimming next to a shark and another one would pass right by us, swimming the opposite direction. “Botella! Marshall!! Botella!” Those words were the most desired words to hear from Juan or Rogelio, spotting from the boat. A botella, or bottle, is when the sharks stop swimming, and float vertically. As they are upright, they open their massive mouths and water pours in, and with it, massive amounts of fish eggs. It is an amazing sight to witness. A very cool dynamic exists between Marshall, our boat captains, and actually, the other captains, as well. Marshall isn’t seen as an American looking to exploit the sharks or the captains. Rather, he is respected by them and is seen as a protector and promoter of the sharks; which in turn creates a mutually respectful relationship. The picture below of the shark silhouette with Amy and I flanking it, is a great shot. Here is a video of the shot taking place. https://youtu.be/HdxzO3cSovQ

(And if you want to check out a few minute video montage of some of my videos, here is a link to them. It provides a pretty good idea of what you are getting on the trip: http://youtu.be/GLtWCFRhp34)

Silhoutte of the whale shark, flanked by me and Amy.

Silhoutte of the whale shark, flanked by me and Amy.

Some well deserved zzzz's

Some well deserved zzzz’s

The videos of the trip are great and provide a view into what it is like to swim with them. But, I must say, the photographs from Marshall are much more dramatic, powerful, beautiful and visually stunning. They tell a better story of the experience. I am trying to convince Marshall to be my official vacation photographer…

He's smiling at Amy...

He’s smiling at Amy…

At a certain point in the late morning, the sharks are sated and need a break from their buffet. Capable of diving to almost 5,000 feet, they head down from the surface and the show is over. Elated, we climb back on the boat and head back to shore, but the day isn’t over yet. Just north of Isla Mujeres is a beautiful reef. Shallow, with incredible white sand on the bottom and spectacular blue water, that is usually reserved for the Caribbean or Bora Bora. We anchor in the reef, and have the place to ourselves. Snorkeling, relaxing and telling fish stories…while Juan prepares fresh ceviche. Freshly caught trigger fish was diced and marinated and cooked with lime as we started in from the whale shark location. Arriving at the reef, it was mixed with onion, cilantro, salt, pepper and once ready to serve, tomato is added. Sitting on a spectacular reef, with a cold drink and freshly made ceviche is about as good as it gets.

Nothing like hanging with these animals.

Nothing like hanging with these animals.

(As an aside, a while back, Rogelio made ceviche for the group after the shark dive. Marshall made a comment that it was really good and asked if he could do make it again the next day. He did. And every day after. Now, each boat captain or first mate makes ceviche as part of their tour…)

Relaxing on the Lilly M after our ceviche and snorkel

Relaxing on the Lilly M after our ceviche and snorkel

After a couple hours at the reef, we head back the final 10 miles to Isla, where we grab a beer to recap the day. Following that, a nap is about as inevitable as me speaking broken Spanish to the locals. We head back to the main commercial street, this time at Compadres. Amy crushed the Mexico Combo while my flank steak couldn’t have been better. The two ex-pats next to us bought us some wine and told old stories about the island, having lived here since 1987. That was Day 1. We weren’t sure it could be topped but were anxious for Day 2.

Day 2: The permit division in Mexico does not allow the same captain to take out the same boat on consecutive days, so we moved from the Lilly M to the Andrea M. We traded in Rogelio for Dave, Tito for Juan. The Lilly M was a diesel inboard motor, while the Andrea M had two outboard motors, which made it faster. Hopefully, a little more reliable, too. On our way back in yesterday, Rogelio quickly turned off the engine, and climbed into the engine compartment. We had a fuel filter problem. Amazingly, he had a spare, and 20 minutes later, we were good to go. Day 2 saw us add two more swimmers, Asher and Jordan. The new total of 6 meant that instead of all of us in the water at the same time, we had to go in groups of two, taking turns on a revolving “drops”. As I mentioned previously, the captains call out when they spot a shark. It took longer this day, and unlike the day before the call today was for a lone shark. By the time we arrived, there were five boats around one shark. The way it works with a lone shark is that the boats queue up and drop their swimmers in for a pass, pick them up and get back in line. With six swimmers, you may get one pass an hour.

They are really hungry.

They are really hungry. Amy sharing his meal-

Luckily, as we were about to queue up, the call came in that a group of sharks was spotted nearby and we took off to meet them. The ocean was rougher today than the first day with fewer sharks; and we had more divers. We lowered our expectations from day one. With bigger swells, the sharks were more difficult to spot from the surface and we had less time in the water with them due to the rotation system. But, seeing the sharks on day two was no less amazing than the first day. Once again, we had instances of multiple sharks at one time, long swims with one sharks and cool feeding experiences.

We are having more fun than the shark...

We are having more fun than the shark…

The most dangerous animal in the sea certainly isn’t the whale shark or a great white, but man. I proved no exception. As I was approaching the boat, a swell hit me as I was taking off my mask. I reached for the outside of the swim ladder just as Amy was climbing up and my fin pushed her pinky toe down, breaking her toe. Lucky for her, we decided not to use her for bait and we kept her around. She even joined me on our last rotation- although you can see her favoring that leg… Like the previous day, we headed back to ‘our’ reef for more snorkeling, ceviche and some beers. While I once again proved I am not competent at catching lobster with my hands, we did see barracuda, trigger fish(we ate his cousin again for lunch), puffer fish, a school of Jax, amongst others. We returned, washed off the fish eggs, and napped again. We awoke, went to our favorite outdoor bar for a margarita, and then took the cart around the island for a tour. Unfortunately, both the dolphin and turtle experiences were closed, and we ended up back at our margarita bar for dinner. We bumped into Marshall and had an awesome dinner overlooking the reef.

Day 3: Back down to four divers again, and back with Rogelio and Juan on the Lilly M, we headed back out for our last day of diving. Day three was calm and still. The air temp was around 90 again, with the water still hovering around 80. But, we had no swells today. Right as we got into the ‘search’ mode for the tiburones ballenas, we heard the “lo se voy”, and we knew they were spotted. I peered around the side of the boat and saw us approaching about three boats and asked Rogelio if it was a single shark or a group. “Un grupo”, came back to me. That was a relief and we all geared up.

Amy looks, um, small next to the shark.

Amy looks, um, small next to the shark.

We asked we were all going out together again or in turns, and Rogelio gave us the nod to all go in again. The water was lake-like and we slid into the water with shimmering dorsal fins all around us. We had sharks to ourselves, enjoying their whimsical feeding and swimming. Without the anxiety of the boat hordes, or a dearth of sharks, we reveled in the moment. With intermittent calls from the boat, “Marshall! Marshall! (and the accent on the ‘all’) we followed the sharks for a good 2 hours, never coming back to the boat. Floating in the middle of the ocean is a unique experience- at once liberating while also suffocating. You are alone, yet surrounded. Surrounded by the largest fish in the world, and protected by the boat captains. Not long again it was these captains that were fishing, and maybe catching these sharks. Now, they are their most ardent defenders. Rogelio imploring us not to touch ‘his’ sharks, for his livelihood depended on it.

Just awesome.

Just awesome.

After the activity slowed down, we opted to bypass the reef and go closer to the island. We opted to head to North Beach, which is the shallow water on the northern tip of our hotel. Waist to chest high crystal clear water awaited us. Once anchored we jumped in and quickly finished our last five beers.

Relaxing with beers and ceviche on North Beach

Relaxing with beers and ceviche on North Beach

Our partners in crime, Doug and Dana, walked to shore and up to a bar, where they got us re-enforcements, and waded back out to our boat. Now that we were replenished, we had time to relax and enjoy the scenery. This reef is the summer stomping ground of boaters across Mexico who pull up, anchor and party on their boats and at the bars nearby. The ceviche was soon ready and we crushed the last servings of Juan’s batch. Shower, nap and a trip to Fenix was again in the cards. As I walked up, the same bartender greeted me. “Two margaritas, con rocos, sin sal, para llevar.” Two margaritas on the rocks, no salt, to go. He knew me. It was time to go…

Sunset view from our last dinner.

Sunset view from our last dinner.

A good way to end the trip.

A good way to end the trip.

We regrouped for one last dinner, huge margaritas, a few Cuban cigars, bad Spanish and resignation that the trip was over. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to swim with the whale sharks. I just never knew what it was going to be like. I didn’t know the entire experience was going to be better than I expected. The people warmer, the sights more amazing, the memories deeper and the profound feeling to return sooner. The true testament to a good vacation is not having bought a time-share and wanting to return the next year.

2014 Brazil….

I had a few requests to dust off the travel blog and write some posts down in Brazil.

I just re-read my last post from 2010 and it mentioned that Brazil preparations were commencing…well, they are finished and we leave in 4 days.

The plan is to fly down to Brazil on Friday, 6/13, and start off in Salvador, which is on the northeastern coast.

We have two games in Salvador:

Portugal vs. Germany on Monday, 6/16.

Friday, 6/20: France vs. Switzerland.

Here is the stadium in Salvador-

We are in Salvador until Saturday morning, 6/21. Then, off to Rio.

Sunday, 6/22 in Rio: Belgium vs. Russia.

2 night trip to Buzios from 6/23-6/25.  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g303492-Buzios_State_of_Rio_de_Janeiro-Vacations.html

Wednesday 6/25 in Rio: Ecuador vs. France

And the famous Rio stadium, The Maracana.

 

It all begins this week! More to come once we get down to Brazil. Stay tuned.