Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Turning 30, Island-Style

Well, some people celebrate turning 30 by drinks out with friends, or maybe a fancy dinner. As you might have guessed, I am not 'some people'.

When I realized that I would be celebrating my fourth birthday in a row on Roatan (wait, what?? how and when did that happen!?) and it was my big 3-0, I decided I might as well make it one to remember.

So how does one celebrate turning 30 in a memorable way?

Island-style, of course:

Full pig roast with all the fixins.

Reef-themed birthday cake.

Volcano candle, which is apparently a real thing.

Beer-shaped piƱata full of condoms and candy.

50+ friends. (Woah!)

An awful lot of vodka sodas.

And one professional photographer friend who gave me the best present by capturing everything.

Welcome to my 30th birthday party, folks. It was one of the best nights of my life!

(Chrissann and other animal-lovin' friends - warning that pig pics you won't like are coming up. Sorry!)

All photographs by Shawn Jackson of Jackson Photography except the one of the sign above and the first one of the cake below. Massive thanks to my talented buddy Shawn for taking these for me, since we both knew I wouldn't remember much of it :) Now all you guys who keep saying you only ever see me in dive gear can see what I look like out of the water!

So far, 30 has been pretty damn good.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start planning my 31st party, which has to somehow top this one. So there's that.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Radio Silence

Oh, hey there. Guess what? Contrary to what many of you seemed to believe by the content of your emails, I did not die here in Honduras! I am still alive and kicking (and definitely knocking on wood). I am healthy and happy and all is well.

Pardon my pause in posts for the last two months (eeeek...yikes). You'll have to trust me when I say it just got away from me. After a few weeks it just felt weird, and I let it keep going and going like when you keep watching a Friends marathon and after hour 6, you're not quite sure why you're still sitting there, but there you are. Not that that's ever happened to me...

Sometimes I feel like I don't have much else to say on here about expat life on Roatan. I'm nearly at 3 years here, and this month I've celebrated my 3rd blog birthday. I've been writing here for three fucking years about mostly the same stuff. Are you guys bored of it yet? And sometimes I get mad that I can't write about things like where I spend the majority of my day now and current events on the island, because there's always some asshole here who has a problem with me and uses my blog to put fuel on their fire. It sounds dramatic but I guess it kind of can be. At this point in my life here I'd rather just shut up and avoid problems. I'll leave them tucked away until the day I leave for good.

Every year I run into more and more people on Roatan who shyly (or rather boldly, if we're in a bar and it's after 10pm) come up to me and ask if I'm Rika from Cubicle Throwdown. YOU BET YOUR ASS I AM!! It makes my day to meet readers and while it's always a little weird that you guys know so much about my life and I don't have a clue about you, it makes me feel like a celebrity... and just in case I haven't said it before, I have always wanted to be famous. And I have no problem settling for quasi-internet-famous because I still get to turn to my friends and say, "SEE!?! People KNOW me!" while they shake their heads over their beers at my high level of ridiculousness. Honestly though, it's so hard to explain the feeling I get when people tell me that my blog and I have inspired them to execute their own cubicle throwdown, to pursue scuba diving as a career (side note: is now a bad time to tell you I don't work in diving anymore?), or just to plan a vacation to Roatan. The fact that I, some random girl on the internet, have had even a tiny effect on people's lives is humbling. For those of you just joining us, or my die-hard readers who have followed this roller coaster ride for three years, all I can say is THANK YOU for being a part of it. It's been an interesting three years.

I have lots to fill you guys in on, so I hope you'll stick around -  and on my end, I promise it won't be another two months before I post. I have a trip to Miami to tell you about, a brank-spankin-new FAQ for the Roatan FAQ section, and most importantly - everything about my party-to-end-all-parties amazing 30th birthday bash, island-style!

In the meantime though, I'll be here for a little bit, doing what I do best on Roatan:

Chat soon, rockstars. xo

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me drink less and blog more. So there's that.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Daytrip to Cayos Cochinos

Once in awhile you just need a vacation. (Even if you live at the beach.) This was one of those days!

Cayos Cochinos (Hog Islands) are a chain of islands and little cays located between the Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila and Guanaja) and the mainland of Honduras. These tiny islands are sparsely inhabited (the last census had the population pegged at 108), and drop-dead gorgeous. Only about an hour and a half by boat from Roatan, it makes for an easy day trip and a great way to get off the island for a bit. Yes, I see the irony of leaving one tropical island for another :)

Last week one of my friends had a birthday and organized a trip for 9 of us to head out to Cayos Cochinos for the day. Because seven of us are dive instructors, plus 1 divemaster and 1 advanced open water diver, we also loaded up the boat with tanks and our gear so that we could do a dive in the unspoiled reef near the big island.

We headed out early in the morning and were treated to a pod of dolphins following the boat about halfway to Cayos! They were sneaky ninjas though, and I didn't get a great photo. From there it was off to the island that has the marine park and research station on it to pay our park fees ($10/day) and take the obligatory "Cayos sign photo" that everyone does here.

After we had registered and paid our fees, we went out for a dive. It was amazing how different the reef is over there than Roatan despite it being so close. There was a lot more soft coral and it felt more lush that Roatan's reef, and definitely more similar to the south side sites than the north side ones. I was beyond thrilled to find a black & white crinoid on my dive, which I've been searching for on Roatan for almost 3 years with no luck.

After the dive, we busted into our enormous stash of booze and chips (I think we had 14 bags of chips for 9 people) and cruised over to a tiny cay called Chachauate, where there is a Garifuna village and some ladies who cook lunch for tourists. While pulling up to the island and getting off the boat we couldn't figure out why everyone was running up to us and trying to sell us earrings (if you are reading this because you'd like to go to Cayos, PLEASE do not buy anything made from turtles, flamingo tongues or coral from these kids. These are protected marine life. The wooden and coconut jewelry is ok to buy.) Then we looked around at each other and realized we totally looked like tourists with our cameras and backpacks - and technically we were! - but we were so used to living on Roatan and not being seen as a tourist anymore that it came as a bit of a surprise and we had a laugh at ourselves.

The kids on Chachauate love to play with visitors and will generally mob you once you step off the boat. They are adorable and I don't blame them for being excited to have new people to play with (on an island for 40 people, wouldn't you?) The kids only speak Spanish and Garifuna, so having a few words of basic Spanish is fun to be able to interact with them, but they mostly just want you to get in the water, carry them around in deeper parts, do swimming races and jump around with them.

We got lunch from one of the local ladies. She originally offered fried fish for $10 and lobster for $25 but there was no way we were paying gringo prices so we settled on everyone having the fish for $6.50 each. It came with a big plate of fried plantains for us all to share, a tomato-onion sauce and coconut rice & beans.

This dog decided he was going to be my best friend at lunch and I nearly took him back with me:

We spent a lot of time taking pics of the stunning surroundings!

After Chachauate, we started heading back to Roatan... with birthday champagne, of course!

We reached Roatan around sunset and the boat captain let us get in the water with some of the toys we brought. Here's my friend Ty killing it freeboarding:

Epic sunset as usual, to end the day.

Our trip to Cayos Cochinos was on a private charter that we organized ourselves, but there are tour companies on Roatan that regularly make Cayos trips. They cost $165-$180 per person and are a full day trip, with stops for snorkeling, fishing, Chachauate, etc. Lunch is always included as are marine park fees, and on some boats they will feed you breakfast as well. The tours normally don't do diving and need a minimum of 8 people to go (max 12-16 depending on the boat). It's a blast! Contact me if you'd like a recommendation.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me take more island 'vacations'. So there's that.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Three Things I Love About My Favorite City: Kyoto, Japan

While I live a life many seem to envy here in the Caribbean, waking up to white sand beaches with turquoise water, and getting a suntan on the boat between scuba dives, only a few close friends know that my heart really lies in Japan.

wearing my hello kitty yukata at a ryokan (tradional inn)
An obsession since I was tiny, Japan embodies everything I love: efficiency, innovation, perfection, order, traditions and precision. A wide geographic range from snowy mountains in the north all the way down to tropical beaches in the south has always amazed me for such a small country. When I started taking Japanese language classes I admired the simplicity of the language structure (screw you, French and Spanish). Japan is also home to my favorite cuisine by far, and I have sushi tattoos to prove it!

kaiseki breakfast (fancy traditional meal)
When I finally visited Japan in 2009 after finding a miraculous $400 return ticket from Vancouver (!!!), I was worried that I had built it up so much in my mind that I would be disappointed when I got there and finally experienced it for myself. Luckily, it was better than I could have ever imagined. I fell in love with nearly everywhere in Japan, but my favorite city in Japan (and the world) is Kyoto.

Three things that I love about Kyoto:

1) Running into a geisha in a giant bamboo forest.

While wandering the streets in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, we stumbled upon a bamboo forest. Walking inside the forest through the path gave me an instant sense of calm and serenity (which was much needed, as I had just gotten lost for 2 hours trying to find my hostel). I turned around to take a photo, and realized that the photo I was taking was my exact desktop wallpaper at home - talk about deja vu! - and around the corner came a geisha walking with a companion. I couldn't believe it! She was so gracious, and let us take a picture with her. Still, 6 years later, this is one of my favorite travel memories.

2) Visiting one of the oldest Zen temples in Kyoto.

Kennin-ji was founded in 1202 and is still kickin' it. This temple was so beautiful and we were lucky enough to catch a traditional wedding procession moving through it with the bride, groom and wedding party in full regalia. We explored the meticulously kept grounds and ended off the visit by writing our wishes and prayers on a little piece of wood and hanging it on a wall with thousands of others. Mine was to return to Japan someday - hopefully that's still in the works!

3) Eating the best ramen in the world.

I don't know if it was the steaming bowl of dark soy broth, fatty cha-su pork, springy negi (green onion) and chewy noodles, or the company, or the view, that made this the best bowl of ramen I've ever eaten... but I don't care! Hiding out from the rain in a ramen-ya with my Japanese university roommate and her friend who came up to Kyoto to meet me and my travel buddies was one of my favorite times in Kyoto. I think I've eaten about 856 bowls of ramen since then, but this one is still #1.

This post has sent me into another Japan-frenzy and I'm putting email alerts on all the airlines! It's also a contest entry for Accor Hotels that sounds pretty awesome - a chance to win a nine-night European trip to London, Paris & Amsterdam, plus £1,000 (about $1,200) in spending money and a GoPro camera to capture everything. I've never been to Europe so this would be a great place to start! If you want to enter, create a blog post or video around the theme ‘Three things I love about my favourite city’ and notify Accor by sending a link to the entry either via a tweet to the @Accorhotels Twitter account including the hashtag #3cities or via email . Full contest details can be found here.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start practicing my nihongo (Japanese) again. So there's that.