"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, September 26, 2016

Things You Probably Don't Know About Me

There will be an update on the girls coming up this week (they are both doing fabulously) but I have had so much more going on in my life this year that at the moment, I am simply not limiting the blog to only horses. 


Lauren inspired this one. And like her, I'm going rogue, because this year has been about me going rogue in every way possible.

Three characters I identify with: 

Katniss is the anti-hero: in the books she is socially awkward and doesn't really like people, but when put in a situation where she has to survive and save others in the process, she is unstoppable. She is fierce, sensitive, determined and honest, to herself and to others.
Neytiri is one of my favorite characters ever, and she shares the same traits I loved of Pocahontas, one of my favorite Disney characters as a child: empathy, her connection with Nature and animals, and her love of teaching what she knows.
Andrea Sachs was my idol when I decided to become a vet tech. I went through the same struggles she goes through while working for Miranda Priestly. She was a nerdy, shy, timid type that was afraid to speak her mind, that turned into a gorgeous, outspoken, intelligent woman that was unafraid of going for her dreams. I like to think that I am like that. Actually, there is proof that I am like that.

Things you (probably) don't know about me

I was seriously into fencing in college. My instructor was coach for the Puerto Rican team in the Panamerican Games, a world-class champion fencer himself. Basically the George Morris of fencing. During a scrimmage, I touched him with my weapon. As in, a points-earning touch.

NONE of his students had EVER been able to do that. This happened in front of the entire class. I gasped when it happened. Don Goyo paused, gave me a very subtle smile, and defeated me in one blow. Hahaha No surprise there! It was an event that was never repeated: he upped the ante from there on out when in practice combat with me. But I was not bad at this sport.

My weapon of choice: the saber. Why? Because it is the only weapon with which you can also strike sideways as well as touch with the tip of the weapon. Permissible contact areas were anything above the waist including the hands and face. And so it is the preferred weapon of men. I was the only girl in the class that chose it. And I kicked all the guys' butts. It shocked everyone because I was the quiet, shy, shapely girl in class with the glasses. I was a completely different person with that saber in hand. I was smaller and faster and had better balance than the guys and didn't give a hoot about getting struck with their weapons, which meant I went in for the kill. I would win before they knew what had hit them. For whatever reason the guys loved this. -_-  My professor started talking about forming an intercollegiate fencing team, for which I was first in line as potential member, but it never happened. I looked into fencing as a sport outside of school but it was even more expensive than horses, so that's when my fencing career came to an end.

Neither of these is me, but you can see that the lunging fencer is getting ready to strike with the length of his weapon's blade.

Like so.

I am an empath. Some of you may or may not have realized this from reading my veterinary posts, but I myself didn't recognize what exactly this meant until this past year, when I started working with the same group of people for 40 hours a week, vs a few hours per shift like I used to in ER and ICU-type work. This article changed my life: it explained everything. My social awkwardness (I prefer to listen before talking...and part of that is because I'm also getting a reading on new people. This used to take time when I was younger; it's more instant now, which makes conversations with strangers so much easier, though it depends on the person I'm interacting with), my discomfort around certain people and not others (I trust first impressions a LOT more now), the unique way in which music affects me (I intensely love or hate songs based on the way they make me feel. Black or white, no shades of gray), my need to go home to recharge because it is my "safe zone" (I'm often at home in silence. TV off unless Carlos is home. If I listen to something at home, it's music, but this most often happens while cooking or cleaning: while I'm active. I don't even like talking on the phone when I'm home), the fact that I could never engage in casual sex because it still involved an exchange of emotion that profoundly affected me, and my ability for feeling the "vibes" of places. People have always said I am too sensitive: I feel your emotions as if they were mine, but because I don't have telepathy to accompany it, I can't always tell if you're mad because of something I did or something else happening in your life. But because of this, I am incredibly sensitive to negative feelings: anger, sadness, bitterness, depression, envy, hatred, ill will. They affect me profoundly because at my base level, I'm normally a pretty cheerful person. But when a negative person stands next to me, it's as if they'd tossed a box of black ink into a pool of clear water. It literally taints whatever it is that I myself am feeling. I can shove it out if I can identify it appropriately, but it still contaminates what I feel. It's called being clairsentient and it is a BITCH, let me tell you. If I have to have a real, honest-to-God superpower, I'd rather it be telepathy or none at all. With telepathy you at least know the "why." When you can only feel emotion, it's like only being able to taste but not smell. Alone it is an incomplete sense because it relies so heavily on another for it to make sense.

I would accidentally freak the hell out of my coworkers when I would ask them, "What's going on?" when I felt that they were off without them giving any outward signs. It took a while before I realized that this is actually not normal. That my ability to read people's most subtle expressions and body language, the fact that I would react to attitudes communicated with gestures alone because I felt the emotion behind them that said gestures confirmed, was highly unusual. It works beautifully with animals because that's how they communicate 24/7, but most people rely so heavily on the spoken word for communicating that when you get someone that can see beyond the facade, it is downright unnerving to others.

Combine that with the eerie premonitions I periodically get, usually in the form of dreams in the third person where I am observing instead of participating, and you can understand why...well, why my Surgery coworkers didn't know exactly what to make of me. One day I scared the living daylights out of my doctor back then: we had this one dog whose surgery was going to be a complicated one and I had asked to run it because I really liked both the patient and the owner; we had clicked. I dreamed that he would not be having his surgery on the scheduled day because of something going on with his lungs. I was watching Dr. G looking at x-rays of his chest in the dream. It bothered me enough that the next morning I walked into the doctors' office to check in with Dr. G, "How is Night this morning?" He had been admitted the previous night so he could go to surgery first thing. "I dreamed his surgery was postponed because there's something going on with his lungs." I said it jokingly: the dog had a whole slew of health problems, which is why his surgery was such a big deal.

Dr. G had been typing away and he stopped to look at me, wide-eyed. "That's funny," he said, "because it might be cancelled. He's been coughing. I need you and Alexei to take x-rays of his chest this morning."

Night had pneumonia; the surgery was, indeed, postponed. Dr. G joked from thereon out that he would check in with me about patient status premonitions before scheduling their surgeries.

All of these things were so useful in ER and ICU-type work that they either didn't get noticed or simply didn't surprise anyone. Sixth senses are common in the medical field, especially in critical care scenarios: you either have a sixth sense or you develop it on the job if you care and do it for long enough. But in the veterinary ER, it often turned into knowing when an animal was going to die no matter what we did. And it was devastating. While having the sixth sense of an empath is still very useful in Surgery, my heightened awareness stood out like a beacon in the new setting. I have since gone back to being reserved and quiet, to simply observing but not sharing everything I perceive. I can dial it down to a degree, but this is sometimes easier said than done, especially with people that you unavoidably sync in with. A few weeks ago, I texted Jess at my old job, "What the HELL is going on over there???" I kept getting images of my ex-coworkers and this feeling of distress. It was making me crazy and interfering with my work and I said as much to Jess. She wasn't even working in Surgery that day, so I wasn't getting it from her. But she still knew what was up: they had euthanized each and every one of Dr. G's appointments that day. It had been one of the WORST days EVER in my old Surgery department...and I felt it from 50 MILES AWAY. I freaked the hell out of Jess. But you can imagine how powerful it is when in close quarters with people, that I can still feel emotion from that type of distance. It's not me being overly sensitive: I just can't help it, because when dialed in, emotions are a solid, tangible thing for me, just like colors are a tangible, measurable thing for the person that has vision. You can't unsee colors when you have vision. And just like you can't explain colors to a person that was born blind, I can't explain what an onslaught of emotion feels like. I can control its...volume, if you will, but just like you can't select for what you want to hear on TV, I can't always control what I feel and what I don't, or what source I want to dial into. Some people just force themselves on you unknowingly. It's fascinating the way people emit emotion...some people contain it so well that you only know what they are feeling by tuning into their body language and expressions as well, while others reek emotion like a smell and color the entire room around them with it. I work with a doctor that is this way...and I get a huge kick out of playing with music in the OR and feeling how it affects him. When I hit the nail on the head in terms of what music he clicks with in the moment, it is incredibly rewarding because the entire environment changes as he relaxes. A lot of people emit emotion in tiny, rapid bursts that change before you can identify what they're feeling, which is similar to how a lot of animals feel...you find yourself imperceptibly reacting to what they're emitting before you can translate it in your head. Others emit emotion in sonic booms of tangled, garbled feeling and then hide behind a solid wall when you try to reach out to them to decipher/unravel what you're feeling. Others have incredibly strong feelings that they try to contain, and I can feel them bubbling under the surface. Like water in a covered pot, with the steam building up just ready to explode. This is terrifying by the way. My Russian ex-coworker did this all the time, and it was the main cause of arguments. "WHAT is WRONG with you???" I'd ask him when I couldn't take it anymore...because I couldn't just leave the workspace. He was incredibly sensitive to energy from others himself, which is what facilitated being able to work with him without need of talking about 75% of the time, but he was also terrible to work with because he thought he had a wall around himself...yet I could feel everything he felt: pain, frustration, anger, if he was sick, even as he tried futilely to contain it all...I felt it all because he had absolutely no control of his feelings, he projected it all outwards yet he refused to acknowledge any of it because Russian men are taught that emotion/feelings = weakness. It was the strangest relationship I've ever had with anyone, coworker or otherwise, because the fact that I could read him with transparency meant that, while he infuriated me more than anyone I have ever met because of the way he presented himself vs the way he really was, I also automatically trusted him implicitly, even when the circumstances that evolved around him were the reason for my leaving that job. The core of himself that he tried so hard to hide was solid, and that's what I saw. But he wrecked chaos in that department with his vortex of energy and emotion, with the colliding forces within himself that he could not deal with, creating a cascade of discord that I simply could not handle, precisely because I am an empath. I cannot, cannot, CANNOT stand drama in the workplace because I feel it so strongly, and I will do almost anything to keep the peace. When there was no chance of salvaging that, I left. The thing is, I finally figured out what was "wrong" with me because of him.

I can tell when a person is lying because of the emotion I feel coming off of them, and it is disturbing and distressing for both the person that is trying to hide something from me unsuccessfully and for me that knows they are hiding something but doesn't know WHAT: because no telepathy, remember? (Carlos gave up on lying to me our first year together. He knows it is impossible. I'd catch him in the act outright or get a premonition. He is a highly sensitive person himself and he knows he married someone who is fairly...unusual. The wonderful thing about him is that he has never been surprised about the strangeness that is my everyday life, that affects him too because he is a part of it.) Emotion is like a stain whereas telepathy is a clear picture. It's like comparing a Rorschach blot to an illustration.

How do I function in daily life? It's easier when I'm not directly interacting with people around me. I often avoid eye contact in public situations: the grocery store, the gym, crowds at the mall. In these situations, I function only off of my awareness. I get frustrated when I have to make eye contact because there is an instant connection when I do. I used to be the kind of person that crazy people would cross the street to come interact with because they sensed that connection if I made the mistake of looking them in the eye. If I have company, it's easier because I just dial into the person next to me and it dulls out what I'm getting from my surroundings. It's still there, though: all I have to do is re-focus for a second on my surroundings to sense danger, happiness, sadness, etc.

And this is why I love working with animals and why my entire life I have found peace around them: because animals don't try to hide what they're feeling. They feel, they communicate, and they just...ARE. They don't lie. They will hide pain from the people they love or if they feel endangered, but you can still see it if you know how to look.

If you've never heard of empaths, go read the article. It is very, very much a play-by-play of my personality, my weirdness, why I tick the way I do, the things that set me off and the things that give me peace, my love for underdogs in both the human and animal form (I own a tripod cat! I own a horse that would have died if I hadn't paid the $1 for her. I often sought out those that were rejected by the crowds as my personal friends, from preschool all the way through high school) and just about everything else. I am most of the things the article discusses.

I cannot stand watching the news. This also has to do with the above. I know there is cruelty in the world. I feel it. I cannot abide seeing it. I get very overwhelmed by people on Facebook that constantly post all of the negative things that happen in the world, and have actually cleared my feed of this type of person/post. The only times I more or less keep an eye on current events are when I'm doing cardio machines at the gym because there are two TVs with CNN in the line-up of televisions in front of this section. My hatred for the news is so strong, that I actually prefer to focus on strength training when I'm working out precisely because I can avoid the TVs. This is why running OUTSIDE this past summer was so important for me: the news of a certain male presidential candidate and the incredible cruelty, evil and violence he inspires; everything that is currently wrong with the US right now and with my home island (which none of you know about, and it will get a billion times worse if said presidential candidate wins. I don't give a single flying fuck about the other candidate's e-mail fiasco. That is nothing compared to the evil the one candidate represents); current events around the world, all of that, could be avoided by me being OUTSIDE. Hence why my injury was so devastating. It makes me absolutely freaking insane that so many white people that I originally respected and thought were intelligent, are so immensely self-centered that they can't see how that one person's success will affect the 40+% of this country's population that are non-white, the 25% that are gay, the 21% for whom English isn't their first language...I could go on and on and on. Let's just say that we have reached the point where Carlos and I will walk into some places speaking in English to one another (we speak Spanish at home), because we feel that threatened. Whoa did I run off-topic there and straight into politics, but I AM NOT SORRY.

I have loved cats even longer than horses. I first decided I wanted a cat when I was 6 years old. I went horse crazy at age 10. But I grew up around dogs. We always had dogs. My parents' Dobies and Keeshond argued over who would get to guard my crib at night and I would romp around with them on four legs as a kid. I loved The Jungle Book because I wanted to be Mowgli with our dogs. Did you know that cats and horses have more in common at the cellular level than cats and dogs, and dogs and horses? Dogs are actually more similar to us humans at the cellular level. Their blood is very similar to ours. And maybe that is why (in general) cats and horses mirror us, vs dogs (in general) try to fix us. We'll never know.

This was me with our dogs!!

I am a coffee snob. Not to the level that some people out there are with their French presses and cold brews, but I am picky about what I like. Latin coffee is nuclear in potency and is most often brewed as something very close to espresso, but with a smoother taste. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go to Miami, walk into any of the bakeries with a Spanish sign outside, and order espresso. You'll understand then. I drink coffee that can wake up the dead that needs to be lightened with milk because creamer won't do it. That is what I make at home. I have a moka pot, aka 'greca" in Spanish: this is how most Cubans and Puerto Ricans brew their coffee. American coffee actually upsets my stomach. It will clear the early morning fog in my head, but I pay a price for it, which is sad because it is so much cheaper than asking for lattes all the time. :) Maryland has been nice because we can find places that make decent coffee. I keep a running list of these places for when the Cuban in-laws come to visit, because Carlos's dad is even more of a coffee snob than I am and he insists the average American restaurant is incapable of brewing good coffee. So far, he has been impressed with my choices, and thus Maryland! ;) So when I tell you guys that a place has amazing coffee, it's because the coffee really is out of this world...

I'm naturally a morning person and am most productive before 11:00 am. When I need to get stuff done, I will wake up between 4:30 and 5:00 am. Those are my "witching hours." ;)

I chose to do homeschooling for my senior year in high school because I wanted to focus on my riding career. I had access to a trainer that genuinely believed I had Olympic potential in showjumping and he was willing to see me through it. I'd wake up at 5:00 am, be done with schoolwork by 10:00 am (see above!) and then go to the barn to spend the afternoon working my butt off riding multiple horses in exchange for lessons. And then that trainer moved to the US and there went that dream. But it was really cool to be homeschooled because that is how I ended up having enough time to participate in the Sea Explorers...which is how everything with Carlos started. But the point is: that is how important horses were to me.

My mom is Puerto Rican and my dad is Cuban. My family on my father's side have been US citizens since the 1960's. My family on my mother's side have been US citizens since 1898 when Puerto Rico became a US territory.  My first ancestor in the Americas arrived on the island from Spain in the 1500s: he was a Spanish engineer commissioned by Sir Francis Drake to build a bridge in Catano, the main industrial city on the island. The bridge still stands close to 500 years later, though it has long been in disuse. My family owned most of what is the San Juan metropolitan area at one point; there are streets and neighborhoods named after my ancestors. I would be Puerto Rican even if I had been born on the moon.

That is a direct quote from the song, "Boricua en la Luna" by the Puerto Rican band Fiel a la Vega

I tried starving myself to death in high school because I had such a horrible body image. And almost succeeded. I had a true, obsessive love-hate relationship with food: what I could eat, what I couldn't eat, how much I could eat. I would dream about chocolate, cake, donuts, bread, because I wouldn't allow myself to eat any of those while awake. I could only eat 500 calories a day and I freaked if I consumed more than 3 grams of fat a day. Currently, I wear size 8 jeans. I weigh 140 lbs, have a 36" chest, 28" waist and 39" hips (#latinaproblems). At my thinnest when I was 17, I wore size 16 children's pants and had whittled myself down from a pudgy 160 lbs to just under 100 lbs...over a 6 month period. You could count every rib, every vertebra. There are no photos of that time. Horses saved my life. And my mom, because she was the one that signed me up for lessons again. When threats to hospitalize me didn't work, she took me to the barn with the trainer that changed my life and told me she would pay for my lessons on one condition: that I eat. If I didn't eat, I couldn't ride. I started eating again when I realized that I really had no strength with which to control a horse over fences if I didn't shove food in my face. And that's how I learned about sports nutrition, which is something that still fascinates me. And how I eventually started working out regularly, not in an effort to vanish into thin air, but in an effort to make myself harder, better, faster, stronger... I used to MAJORLY suck at gym class. The first time I ran a mile I couldn't believe it. The sad thing was that that didn't happen until I was in my 20s! And so running has always been the back-up sport when I didn't have the time for riding or surfing. Strength training is my other big thing. I love the way working out makes me feel. I love that residual muscle soreness you get after a solid workout because it reminds me that I worked my body hard, that said body took me to greater lengths than the day before. I love food and I have spells of eating not-so-healthy, but for the most part, we only keep a variety of healthy food in the house (lean meat, chicken, tons of fruits and veggies facilitated by my obsession with Wegmans, Ezekiel bread, yogurt, beans, root veggies like potatoes and yams, interesting grains like quinoa and farro, etc). If we want ice cream or chocolate, we have to drive out to get it. Sometimes we decide it's too much trouble, and others it ends up turning into an ice cream outing followed by dancing under a bridge. ;) But the point is: if I'm working out, I love my body more. And it has taken a lifetime to learn to focus on what I like when I look in the mirror (the ridge of ab muscle above my hip bones, the definition in my shoulders, the veins in my arms that show more as my body fat percentage drops), instead of all the things that could be improved (my belly pooch that has never, ever gone away, no matter how thin I am; the parts that will always jiggle: butt, thighs.)

I love most of the animals everyone else finds gross: reptiles, including lizards and snakes, and pretty much every imaginable insect. I have owned green iguanas and garter snakes and always wanted a ball python. I love the sleek smoothness of their scales. I used to catch lizards on the island, keep them for a few days, and then set them free again.  There is a photo somewhere of me when I was like 4 years old, wearing this adorable frilly dress with this look of utmost joy and fascination on my face as I look down at what I'm holding in my hands: a lizard! :D I had spotted mice and at one point got into breeding exotic-colored gerbils. I had a dead butterfly collection when I was little. I love spiders and refuse to kill them. My favorite part of tubing on the Potomac in the summer is that if you hold still, hordes of dragonflies will land on you and hang out. My one phobia: cockroaches. I cannot abide roaches.

I adored this little guy. His name was Aldebaran and he was a yellow fox color (golden guard hairs with white undercoat and red eyes.) He was an absolute sweetheart. I could put him on my shoulder and he would just hang out there while I walked around the house. He also enjoyed road trips: we would take him with us to the Arroyo beach house, where I'd let him run around the living room in his exercise ball.

My favorite art material to work with is colored pencil. Always has been. And I keep them in a cigar box. Actually...I keep most of my art materials in cigar boxes of varying sizes. Fun fact: no one in my family smokes cigars, not even myself! But we keep cigar boxes inherited from friends for storing; my mom and aunts do the same thing. Cigar boxes are beautiful, functional, made of real wood, and thus will last forever!

I was a diehard tomboy as a kid. I was seriously upset when I grew boobs and couldn't walk around the house anymore in pants and no shirt. And then I discovered sports bras! It is not uncommon to find me in shorts and a sport bra hanging out at home, and when we lived in South FL a favorite outfit was jeans and a bikini top.

One stormy night back when we lived in Tampa, Carlos and I stripped and ran naked down the beach at 2:00 am.

I once spent a hurricane in an outdoor hot tub. At least it had a roof over it...

I love lightning. I've spent thunderstorms trying to nail a photo of the lightning. Still haven't succeeded.

My pinky toes barely have nails. I got that from my dad. He got surgery to correct his. I was livid when he told me.

I used to be terrified of galloping in wide open spaces. 

I like round mirrors because they resemble scrying glasses. But there is only one round mirror in our house. It is above my desk.

I hate driving in rain.

The only thing I've ever collected were Cheval Ponies. I have 8 of them. You can have 20 of them in the same pose and same color, and each one is going to be 100% unique: they were each hand-made in South Africa. I stopped collecting them when I stopped working at the tack shop. Precisely because each one is so unique, I liked to choose them in person. They're very difficult to find nowadays; I don't think they are made anymore. When we've moved, they have always been very carefully wrapped and packaged, set aside from all the other boxes; only I am allowed to touch the boxes that contain them, and they travel with me. They are one of my most cherished non-living possessions because there are no others like them in the world.

These two are my absolute faves. 

Our apartment is full of Puerto Rican art. Every wall. What doesn't have art, has photos taken by me of some of my favorite places on the island.

A sampler here. The one on the left is a view of La Capilla del Cristo in Old San Juan. (And you should go to that link and read the story behind that little church. There's a whole legend behind it.) The one on the bottom right is a screenprint of the mausoleum in the Old San Juan cemetery. And the little screenprint on the top right is by my Aunt Mary, of the ridgeline on the east side of our house on the island. The sun rose behind those trees every morning.

The only things I brought with me from Puerto Rico were my cat, my books, my clothes, my car (it was cheaper to ship my paid-off Toyota Tercel than it was to buy a used car in the US!), and my art. No more.

My favorite TV show is Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. I love that man, the way he sees the world, and the way he presents it.

The only thing I miss about not having cable is HGTV. I used to be able to watch that channel all day, every day.

When I was 6 years old, I seriously wanted to be a unicorn when I grew up.

The Last Unicorn was a favorite movie for a while there, too.
I can still thing the song "I'm Alive" from the movie.

And now you can too! The song is by America and is hauntingly beautiful. It still gives me goosebumps.
I am secretly aggressively competitive. I know this about myself and so I keep a very harsh bit and a very tight rein on this part of me! ;)

And if I have to grow old, I want to be like this lady. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Story of the Puerto Ricans that Danced Under a Bridge...

If you're my friend on Facebook or Instagram, you're probably wondering at this point what is up with Carlos and me dancing under this one bridge in downtown Frederick all the time.

And if you're not familiar with the bridge yet, you will be in a minute. :) Or fifteen, since I have to again tell the full story so you can comprehend what's happening in the present!

I grew up surrounded by music. My mom and dad were huge on music. My dad could play the acoustic guitar, my mother's brother played the drums and percussion, and my dad's brother was one of those gifted souls that could pick up any instrument you put in front of him and instantly be able to play it without ever having touched said instrument before in his life. My mom herself didn't play but it didn't keep her from appreciating the talents of those who could. Later while living on the island, her and my aunts would always play music on the weekends. All sorts of stuff: oldies from the 60s and 70s like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Carpenters (among so many others); popular Spanish rock like that of Puerto Rican artists such as Chayanne and Ricky Martin; Juan Luis Guerra's awesome Dominican merengue music; US Top 40 (I listened to the Casey Kasem show every Sunday), instrumental music like Yanni's...my taste in music is so hugely varied because of this upbringing! It fed into every other aspect of my life: I couldn't work out without music, I couldn't drive without music, and ever since the island, I have ridden horses to music as well. In fact, I bought my first Discman with its pouch for running, not for working out, but for riding! I love Spinning because it is set to music and the beat of the music determines your speed, gear and exercises on the bike. Carlos and I always play music while cooking at home. At work, both the old job and the new one, I've become the unofficial OR DJ when running anesthesia because everyone loves the stuff I play, and I play it with a purpose: to positively influence the mood in the room.

I have far more childhood memories tied into music than into almost any other of the senses. To this day, when I hear Bertie Higgins's Key Largo song, I am transported back to a beach side hotel room shared with my parents. It is early morning and the sun is shining through the curtains so that everything glows gold and white, and I can hear the roar and thump of the waves on the beach outside. The song is playing on the radio. Mom and Dad are awake and just getting started with the day. And I remember the love they had for each other. It was tangible in the air. It was their song.

I was three years old and I already understood all of these things. Because of music.

When you love music enough you want to BE the music. To have it pour into you and around you and be wrapped up in it until you cease to be a physical being and you are made up of wavelengths of sound and vibration. Playing music if you know how to play an instrument can satisfy this in a way, but for me, it's long been about dancing. Dancing until I forget I have feet.

Photo from here, and too incredible not to share! Apparently water dancing is a thing. 
I took ballet when I was very little but didn't stick with it. I think that might have been because we were always moving when my parents were married: my dad was in the Army. 

Music is a vital part of my culture and in school we were taught traditional dances like bomba y plena, which come from our African ancestors. One of my favorite school events was when my second grade class put together a bomba y plena dance we practiced long and hard for, and then performed in front of the entire school. I got to wear the big skirt that swung out when I twirled. Loved it. And that is when my love for clothing and objects that moved with me while dancing started. Remember that.

Bomba y plena dance. Look at the skirt!! This is why to this day I love twirly skirts and dresses!
Photo from here.
Going into my teens, I gained a lot of weight and became very, very shy. Everyone in school knew who I was because of my drawings and, while I knew when a boy liked me, they always happened to be shy types that wouldn't ask me out. Since I was shy too, I didn't think to ask them out myself for fear of rejection. School dances were hard during this time because I just wanted to dance, dance, dance but felt majorly self-conscious because of my weight. Which made it almost impossible for me to enjoy the music the way I wanted to. In 8th grade I begged my mom for dance classes in preparation for our junior prom, and I got my wish.

Ballroom dancing.

I freaking LOVED IT. And I realized that I really did have rhythm. I'd been born with that after all; I just needed to learn the steps with my feet. I also learned how to properly dance with a partner and follow cues. Ballroom dancing at the competitive level is a LOT like riding, except the girl is the horse: there are all sorts of little cues the guy will give you via touch on your back or shoulder blade to let you know what flamboyant move comes next.

I had so much fun. I wasn't able to stick with it because we couldn't afford both that and riding lessons long-term, but it gave me the confidence to go out on the dance floor at our 8th grade junior prom with a group of my friends and rock out. And the guy I liked at the time asked me to dance...and I was able to keep up. 

I lost the extra weight in high school and stopped being so self-conscious. I started dancing more on my own, often at home: I'd lock myself up in my bedroom, blast the radio, and dance for an hour or more. It was my cardio! 

In my junior year in high school I finally asked a guy out myself and we started dating. Which meant I had a partner for school dances! Gus wasn't a huge fan of dancing but he loved me (aka he enjoyed spending time with me and was up for pretty much any crazy thing I suggested), had natural rhythm (most Puerto Rican guys do, even the ones that will tell you they don't dance. It's in our blood) and had enough of a sense of humor to not take himself too seriously, which made him an excellent student: I taught him all the ballroom moves I'd learned and we went to all the school dances together and, while we were shy about it, we still had a blast.

However, I always had this secret dream of being like Sandy in Grease and busting out of the goody-two-shoes shell with some amazing dance moves in front of a group of people that would be astounded by it. Even when I had a partner at school dances, we were always off dancing in a corner where we wouldn't attract too much attention.

I got into metal, hard rock and industrial music in college when I started playing the electric guitar. I got into ska when I started dating the bass player of a local ska band, and it was him that taught me to pay attention to the different instruments and layers in music.

Jamming with my brother in the living room of my family's house in PR. We had a band but we never did play in public.
And then, much later, I started the long distance relationship with Carlos, flying out to Tampa, FL once a month to visit him.

Carlos introduced me to electronic music. He was a former hard-core raver, a scene whose existence I was aware of but unfamiliar with. All of his Tampa friends were ex-ravers, actually. And they all still partied occasionally: electronic music in general is HUGE in most of the major Florida cities. 

I used to hate electronic music with a vengeance. Of course, I had only been exposed to what Carlos refers to as "wimpy techno."

I can still pinpoint the song that made me fall in love with the electronic music genre, and I remember the moment that I heard the song for the first time:  Dido's "Sand in My Shoes", Above and Beyond's UV remix.

I was already living with Carlos in our first home, the 2-story, 3-bedroom apartment that we shared with two of his friends. We were both up early for work and the bedroom was still dark, lit only by the light of our attached bathroom. Carlos flipped on his radio and "Sand in My Shoes" started to play.

This version of the song is really hard to find: it was on a MixMag CD from the early 2000's that came with the magazine. I was very, very surprised to find it on Youtube for you guys!

"Two weeks away feels like the whole world should have changed
But I'm home now and things still look the same
I think I'll leave it till tomorrow to unpack
Try to forget for one more night that I'm back in my flat
On the road where the cars never stop
Going through the night
To a life where I can't watch the sunset
I don't have time, I don't have time

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again

Tomorrow's back to work and down to sanity
Should run a bath and then clear up the mess I made before I left here
Try to remind myself that I was happy here before
I knew that I could get on a plane and fly away
From the road where the cars never stop
Going through the night
To a life where I can watch the sunset
And take my time, take all our time

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again, I wanna see you again
I wanna see you again
Two weeks away, all it takes
To change and turn me around I've fallen
I walked away and never said
That I wanted to see you again

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again, I wanna see you again
I wanna see you again"

- Lyrics from Metro Lyrics

I was in the bathroom with the door open brushing my teeth. And there was something about the song that just went right through me, wrapped itself around me from the inside out and made every hair in my body stand on end. I had to stop what I was doing, turn around and walk over to the radio, as if by doing this I could see the music.

"What is this???" I asked Carlos.
"Trance. The group is called Above and Beyond."
"I love this!!!"

I was transfixed. The music...the combination of the music and voice were as if someone had extracted a piece of my soul and turned it into sound waves. The lyrics reminded me of the island and the life I had left behind for a life where I could watch the sun set. And take our time. Take all our time.

We did this often back then: drove 45 minutes to Clearwater Beach so we could watch the sun set over the Gulf. 
It's been 12 years since I heard that song for the first time. It's on almost every playlist I have, though I don't listen to it often because I don't want it to lose that which makes it so special: even after all this time, it still strikes me to the core and gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. No music prior had ever made me feel like that. And that's when I understood all of this hype with electronic music.

It was the start of a relationship. :)

Many years later I would get to see Above and Beyond live, at an outdoor music concert in Miami. They are still my favorite trance DJs. 

It was trance music that started it all. And then I fell in love with house music and dubstep. And so I went with Carlos and his friends to electronic music parties and was formally introduced to the rave scene, which was already dying at this point.

My favorite part of these events was the dancing with lights. Glowsticks in particular. Carlos and his friend Will (who is also Puerto Rican; ironically they met in Orlando, not PR) are two of the most insanely gifted glowstick dancers I have ever seen. Even after all these years, after seeing other people both online and in person, glow dancing, I can still say: Carlos and Will are the best. THE. BEST. They had learned to dance together when they both lived in Orlando and taught one another some crazy fancy moves. And of course, there is no video because back then phones still didn't have video.

Carlos and Will dancing without lights...to drum n' bass.
If you've ever heard drum n' bass, you will understand my never-ending astonishment that anyone can dance to that music!
I could have watched them dance for hours, not unlike a cat with a laser pointer. It was beautiful.

This girl is absolutely incredible. She has several videos on YouTube. Charles can do most of these moves.

So it was no surprise that anytime Carlos picked up the glow sticks and started dancing, the crowd of people around us would step back to give him room and stand transfixed to watch him. "MINE," I'd think, "He's mine. That's MY guy moving like that!"

It wasn't long then before I decided to give glow dancing a whirl myself (pun intended). As it turns out, once I figured out the correct string length I needed so I wouldn't give myself a black eye with the glow sticks, I was able to teach myself a couple of the fancier glowstringing moves. I had the coordination for it, but I still found it awkward.

This one is me.
One of our friends, Ali, had this awesome pair of glow maracas. They are battery operated and when turned on have an inner circle that lights up and spins. They are awesome. One day at a party Ali passed them to me. I turned them on and started dancing, letting the music dictate how I moved, without thinking about how I looked or planning the next move. I was simply one with the music, the maracas highlighting my movements. I was lost in the current of the music.

The crowd around us stepped back and gave me room, turning to watch.

I had just found my "thing."

Ali told me to keep the maracas and they have come with me to every outdoor electronic music festival ever since. I've also played around with regular glowsticking (sans strings: you just hold the glow sticks in your hands) and with other things like these gloves with fingertips that light up:

Dancing with the gloves.
We went to music festivals maybe two or three times a year. The rest of the time, Carlos, myself and his friends would take a radio and a ton of CDs out to the beach and dance with lights under the moonlight by the water. It was magical and there are no photos of that, because none of us could afford cell phones with cameras yet. We all split ways the same year: Carlos and I moved to Tampa, Ali headed to Massachusetts, and Melissa went to New York. Once a year we would all meet up in Miami for the Ultra Music Festival, and we would take music and lights out onto the beach and dance together again. It was truly special.

At the beginning of 2016, I hadn't touched a glow stick or my maracas since our New Year's Eve party in New York when we first moved to Maryland the winter of  2012-2013. Carlos and I returned from the South Florida trip this past January with the electronic music bug: it's huge down there but not so much up here.

I also came back with a raging desire to dance with lights again, for the first time in almost 4 years.

I woke up one morning with this idea of going down to Baker Park the following weekend and dancing by the creek with the maracas at dusk, and setting up the camera to film it. Because lights and their reflection in water! Carlos has gotten me spoiled with the idea of filming/photographing all the cool stuff we do in our daily lives that I otherwise would have only been able to record by way of drawings/illustrations.

So many of our Arroyo trips are remembered via sketches I did at the time. My brother and I were always up to all sorts of mischief that never was photographed.
Carlos is always up for anything and he thoroughly enjoys me being the one to come up with the crazy ideas since at the beginning of our relationship he was always the one with the crackpot schemes, so he was all for it.

It was winter. And cold but not freezing: around 40ish degrees. We arrived at the park at dusk but there were quite a few people around, playing in the park, jogging, walking their dogs by the creek...and I had a total shyness attack.

The baseball field was flooded so I stood by the giant puddle of the field, away from the crowds, and experimented with how the light of the maracas would look in the reflection in the water.

That little orange thing on the ground next to me is our little bluetooth speaker that basically goes with us everywhere...
Conclusion: it was too light out.

So we walked to Bushwaller's, our favorite Irish pub, and had a couple of pints while waiting for the sun to go down. We returned to Baker Park once it was dark.

The temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees now that the light was gone so the park had completely cleared out despite it only being like 6:00 pm.

We tried getting the view from the creek but now it was too dark. I was thoroughly aggravated and bummed out and still really, really wanted to dance.

Carlos looked around and I saw when the lightbulb went on.

"What?" I asked him.

"Let's try over there," he said, indicating the bridge.

The Baker Park bridge has the road over the top of it and three parallel tunnels underneath it with a sidewalk running through one of the tunnels, connecting the two sides of the park. At night, the three tunnels are lit with bright overhead lights.

"Really?" I asked him. My mental picture of what I wanted was so different from what was in front of me.

"Yeah," he said. He didn't explain what he was thinking and I didn't argue. He is the one with the film degree, after all. (Carlos is a classic example of the boy that didn't want to grow up, and thus didn't know what he wanted to be when he realized not growing up wasn't an option: he has a Biology degree, a Film degree, and his Nursing degree, and that is why we are student loan poor...but also why he has such an astounding eye for both photos and video. It is thanks to him that all of my social media is so full of...well, media!)

I had a couple of specific songs I wanted to dance to that I had only been listening to all week long while visualizing myself dancing to them...but we were having technical difficulties with both phones: Carlos's didn't want to take video nor photos but I had my music saved on my phone. We ended up having to swap: Carlos took the videos with my phone and used his to play the music. He has good music, of course (he's the one who introduced me to all this after all!) but I had to deal for a moment with the fact that we had planned this whole thing, and first I couldn't dance next to the water and now I wouldn't be able to dance to my music. I was super frustrated as I walked into the center of the tunnel and turned to face him under the lights.

He synced his phone to our little bluetooth speaker and said, "Here. Dance to this."

I picked up the maracas and waited for the music, expecting him to have chosen something crazy fast like Diesel Boy.

I was very surprised when the song that started to play was "The Hanging Tree" from The Hunger Games' Mockingjay movie.

I read the books. I loved the song, as I had become familiar with the lyrics through the books prior to hearing it for the first time when we watched the movies, and had been thrilled with the way the song was played IRL. I had completely forgotten the song existed until this moment.

A slow smile spread across my face, like the kind you get when recognizing an old friend you haven't seen in awhile, as the song filled the entire tunnel like a tangible entity. The acoustics under that bridge were out of this world.

"Wait," I told Charles, who had picked up the phone and was ready to film.

The music built up and I let it flow through me.

"Now," I said. You can hear when I say it at the beginning of the video: "Ahora."

I closed my eyes and let go. 

When Charles showed me the video afterward I was a little stunned...I had never seen myself dancing!! I had to deal with a moment of, "I want to dance like her!" combined with, "Wait...I AM her!"

And I also saw what he had seen: the lighting under the bridge was absolutely incredible for filming. Like, if we had tried to deliberately illuminate the setting that way, it never would have come out that spectacular.

In one of my most ballsiest moves ever, the video went on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram. I was astounded by the feedback I received on Facebook, especially. My FB had always been somewhat boring: I didn't use to post a lot on there. But people went nuts over the dancing video.

This one was also posted. Glowsticking (instead of with the maracas) to a MUCH faster song!

I got my wish of wowing an audience...thanks to Carlos and social media! There was so much positive feedback at work when I walked in the following week. Alexei, my coworker at the time, was humming "The Hanging Tree" for the entire week afterwards...

And so the bridge became a sort of hangout for us. The lighting and acoustics under there were so AWESOME for filming that we got a huge kick out of going there, dancing to whatever the hell we wanted and filming it for later.

The song was Dash Berlin 4AM Remix by Hardwell, featuring Amba Shepherd.
The beautiful thing about this particular video is that for the first time, I could see the way Carlos sees me.

It started out with glowsticks and the maracas and later turned into us dancing without them...

Like the night we danced to reggaeton, until Carlos got shy about the camera and decided he preferred to be behind it...
...and so I rocked on alone.
Yup, I was barefoot. I had been wearing a pair of high heels and decided they had too much traction for the kind of dancing I was trying to do, so off they went. Baker Park is set in the middle of a REALLY NICE area of town with half-a-million dollar homes on each side of it. There is some graffiti under this bridge...in chalk. There is no gum, no trash, no nothing under this bridge. Cleanest, safest bridge you will ever find. Hence why we go there so often!

We have since discovered that two of the bars in downtown have dance floors that are open on Friday and Saturday, but if we want to move to Latin music, we have to go out on Wednesdays. The likelihood of that happening with our schedules is close to nil, so we continue to visit the Baker Park bridge whenever we want to move to something we can't find anywhere else.

This past weekend was the harvest moon. I have the good fortune of knowing a lot of amazing people and so my social media feeds were full of pictures of the full moon in all sorts of settings taken from friends across the country and Puerto Rico. I was getting a kick out of seeing so many folks I love out appreciating this type of beauty. And so on Saturday night, Carlos and I went out to get ice cream at Rita's in downtown...and then decided to go to Baker Park for a stroll under the moon.

I was in house clothes. In a tank top and pajama shorts and had literally thrown on a bra just for the purpose of leaving the apartment. I had managed to get some Oreo ice cream on the tank top, which I had licked off unsuccessfully.

Carlos was playing his music in the car, with his phone connected to the radio, and this incredible song came on. I couldn't really tell what the lyrics said, other than "capsize" and "tides" as part of the lyrics. The music and the voices were like water pouring over me and I said to Carlos, "Let's go dance under the bridge! I want to dance to this song!"

He obliged.

He parked the car above the bridge and we ran down into the light. There were a few people walking on the sidewalk over by the creek but we were otherwise alone.

The phones were set next to one another, one filming and the other playing the music, and we danced. This was, obviously, completely unrehearsed since it was only the second time we were hearing this song ever.

The song is Capsize by Frenship, which I included at the end of my previous post. It is just achingly beautiful and if you've never heard it before, you need to push play on the video above or go here.

I kind of like our version better than the original video of the song!...And that white orb behind us was the full moon!

There is a full-blown amphitheater in Baker Park that I had been entertaining the idea of dancing at for the last week. On Sunday I wanted to try dancing there but it was too dark by the time we made it out after dinner.

However, right next to the amphitheater is a gazebo...that is lit at night. Except there were people there when we parked. So we went for a walk. Carlos suggested dancing under the bridge again but I wanted something different. We walked all the way around the park as it was starting to sprinkle rain, and as we came back up to the gazebo, realized that it was empty. Of course we had left the tripod in my car at the other end of the park...so we decided to improvise.

I was wearing a swirly dress for the occasion, with workout short-shorts underneath so I could twirl without worrying about people seeing my underwear. The phones got set on the bottom rung of the gazebo railing and we set a few of my favorite Latin songs to play.

Here's a bunch of stills from the videos we filmed:

And that is the evolution of the story behind why we dance under a bridge...and in a gazebo...and one day in an empty amphitheater...and who knows where else. It started because of electronic music and has continued because of Latin music. If we can't dance to it anywhere else, we'll dance to it on our own because it's in our blood. Or, as Carlos said, "because we're that cool. Because we feel like it. Because we can."

Because we want to be the music. ;)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Island Life Revisited: Outer Banks Edition

Warning: there are no horses in this post, but I do talk about wave riding...because for you to understand the significance of this trip, I have to go back to my time in Puerto Rico so I can explain. But most of you seem to enjoy those stories so here goes. :) Extra-long post as a result, though...

If you know I am a former islander, it should not be surprising that I have a lifelong love affair with the sea.

My first memories are of the creepy house in Fort Polk, Louisiana, where my family was transferred to by the Army only a month after I was born in Oklahoma.  My dad was still getting things wrapped up in OK and she had gone ahead to LA with their two enormous dogs and a tiny baby in tow to start getting the new house ready. My mom cried the first time she walked into that house because it had such bad vibes. But it was assigned military housing so there was not much they could do at the time. There is nothing specifically bad about those first memories, just an aura of darkness around them and a constant unexplainable fear of the house itself. Something horrible had happened in that house before we moved in, and it was heavy in the air still when you were alone in it. Thankfully, the memories of that house are only a handful, and they are highlighted by the Dobies my parents owned, who adored me, and the music my dad used to play on his huge stereo and speakers: Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Phil Collins, The Mamas and the Papas...the last music you'd probably expect a Cuban to listen to. :) Music, on the radio and played by my dad on his guitar, along with the palpable love of my family under that roof, both four-legged and two-legged, pushed the darkness of that house away in those memories. I was only a year old at the time. Music is still such a powerful thing to me. But that's a subject for another post. :)

Flash forward and in my next memory, I am in the sea, in a safe cove created by the rocks on Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, where we had gone to spend summer vacation time. I have some sort of flotation device, as I don't yet know how to properly swim, but I am in the water up to my neck. Early morning light is sparkling off of the water's surface and the water is so very clear, I can see my feet on the bottom and the ridges of sand created by the ocean currents. I am grinning, hopping from one ridge of sand to the next, the water warm and quiet and safe around me.

Kind of like these tigers. You can see the ridges in the sand underwater! 

I was maybe two years old at the time, and I still remember that there were no words in my head, just this sense of wonder and absolute happiness, existing in that moment.

And that is how long I have loved the sea. And that is how long it has been my sanctuary and my haven.

As a teenager I used to be intimidated by the waves. They were a beautiful thing to watch from a distance, not something to actively swim in. I loved the crash and thump of them on the shore, over reefs, and I could sit and listen and watch them all day long. But you couldn't have paid me to swim in them.

And then my uncle bought the beach house in Arroyo.

Arroyo is in the southeast corner of the island. It is a tiny town that you could just blow through without even noticing, unless your soul decides to take residence there.

Arroyo is circled and the town highlighted in red.
I found a missing part of myself on that beach.

My photo.
Photo by my uncle.
Specifically, on her waves. That broke unexplainably over a sandy bottom. If you know about surfing, you will know that the best waves take place over reefs.

Not Arroyo's.

The bottom was shallow enough that you could walk a good 1/4 mile out from the shore and the water would still be below your waist on a day when the sea was quiet. And so I braved the waves for the first time and learned to bodysurf without a board, letting the waves lift me up and send me to shore.

At the time, I was 18 and I already had a huge crush on Carlos and I knew his sport of choice was bodyboarding. I decided to try it out and bought a cheap foam board at the Walmart in town.

I rode my first wave and fell madly in love. It was love at first ride.

Before I knew it, that cheap foam board was so highly inadequate I ended up with not one, but two Real bodyboards (apparently I must have two of everything...cats, horses, dogs, etc...), rash guards, a whole slew of bikinis that were chosen for their ability to stay on, wax for my boards and how to use them. I was picky about what type of armband I liked (bicep band) and where I wanted it set on my board (offset on the right so the clip for the armband wouldn't dig into my chest or my boobs) and I was familiar with the breaks on well over a handful of local beaches that I felt safe in. I learned to recognize a riptide and how to get out of one. I became familiar with "Locals Only" concepts, about the war between surfers and bodyboarders, but also that girls who surfed, be it on a surfboard or bodyboard, were considered badasses. No one messed with me, even when I was the only girl in a lineup of riders waiting for the next wave. Latin culture may be viewed as unendingly chauvinistic, but overall Puerto Rican women are respected as something not that far from goddesses. This is a heritage from the Taino Indians, who were a matriarchal culture, that has persevered into modern times: we had a female governor run the island 15 years before a woman ever ran for the presidency in the continental US. If that's not women's lib at its finest, I don't know what is.

Scoping out the waves at Arroyo.
I participated in two male-dominated sports on the island: bodyboarding and Paso Finos, and all I ever encountered was admiration. Showjumping in Puerto Rico was a world of women, just like it is here.

Bodyboarding is the only activity that has ever been right up there with horseback riding for me. The one thing that kept me from taking the next step into competing was my fear of reefs: I might have a high tolerance for pain but I don't enjoy it, and the idea of being slammed against the gnarly sharpness of coral, volcanic rock and sea urchins only a couple of feet, sometimes only a few inches (!!) under the surface by a miscalculated 12-foot wave was...well, it wasn't exactly an alluring thought!

Underside of a wave breaking over volcanic rock, as seen underwater. Puerto Rico did not break off of the mainland US; it erupted from the bottom of the ocean as a volcano. Most of the islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic were formed in this way. Hence why it has a central mountain range, like most of the Virgin islands do, and why the rocks on its shores are exactly like what you'll find on the beaches of Hawaiian islands
Because to compete, you must ride over reefs.

Like these waves at Tres Palmas Beach in Rincon, Puerto Rico.
The best waves in the world break over coral reefs. (If you know anything about surfing, you've probably heard about Pipeline on the North Shore of Hawaii. That is where that link will take you. Pipeline is the Tevis of surfing.)

I did eventually surf a reef, in the cove of Mar Chiquita in Manati.

Aerial view of Mar Chiquita, which means "Little Sea". It's a huge cove, with that round beach maybe two miles in length. Photos are deceiving. And yes, the water really is that color! The beach itself was unusual because when you stepped into the water, it was smooth rock on the edges, not sand. It was like a humongous tide pool. It's one of those places that you don't hear about unless you're a local or know locals that will tell you about it. It's one of the island's better-kept secrets. But if you're ont0e island and you decide to go check it out, just be careful, ok? There are some sketchy people that hang out there. Don't go alone (I always went with my ex, whom I got hooked on bodyboarding as well), and do lock your things in your car. 
The waves of Mar Chiquita.
It was not known as a surfing beach but it could have quite the impressive waves during surf season (September through March on the island is when you will find the biggest waves) but it had tidy, clean waves that always broke in the same direction that were easy to ride: the waves erupted over a shallow reef (less than 3' underwater) and then "sank" as they rolled into the deeper waters (a good 15' deep) beyond the reef. They were highly unusual and took some getting used to, but were tremendously fun once you got the hang of their feel because you got an extra-long ride out of them! Until, of course, I got too cocky one day and was slammed against the reef by a 5' wave. I managed to keep from getting my skin ripped off by clinging like a barnacle to my spinning bodyboard as we tumbled through the water. My bodyboard kept me afloat even when upside down and so the wave dropped us off in the deeper waters of the cove, unscathed. But it had been too close of a call. I had nothing to prove to anyone and that was, honestly, the last time I surfed that beach.

And so my favorite beach was always Arroyo. It was my first love when it came to my affair with wave riding, and it was the place I ran to when I was troubled, worried, upset, or life was getting me down. My 20s were full of much more turmoil than my teenage years ever were, and the ocean would set me free with so much more ease than horseback riding ever did.

That was my mom walking on the shore.
And  you know what? Arroyo isn't even particularly pretty when compared to some of PR's other beaches. But it was MY beach and that is what made it better than all the rest. 
As you guys know, riding a horse involves working with a living, thinking animal that reacts to your emotions, thoughts and body language. Some horses will give you exactly what you need in order to forget, in order to distract you. But others will feed off of those emotions and mirror them back at you because they don't understand why you feel this way, compounding the problem. So then you have to deal with your emotions AND the horse's.

On the back of a wave, it's just you against an element brought to life by the moon, the currents, the wind, barometric pressure changes, the nature of the ocean bottom, and whatever weather pattern is happening out at sea or on land. The ocean is itself, no matter how you feel. It doesn't react to you, it just is. It's just you reacting against her. You can't train her, tame her, nor control her, and very often you can't predict what she's going to do next, even when you're in the moving waters of a well-known sea.

What you do will keep you alive or will make you drown, depending on the type of sea you're willing to challenge and your ability to be one with the water.

We had days when the ocean was so flat, the light shimmered off of it like a mirror, and other days when the waves were so pitiful it was pointless to even attempt to surf them. But then there were days when the sea offered up gorgeous waves, breaking cleanly in both directions, 4', 5', 6' tall, and I would run out to join them.

Arroyo's waves. Taken by moi with my SLR and long lens. There is always less wind in the mornings, so the waves had nicer breaks. It was not uncommon to find me plunging into the water with my board at 7:30 am.
The biggest wave I ever rode was an 8' wave during an electric storm. There was thunder and lightning out at sea and the wind was ripping over the water, roaring parallel to shore, fueling the power of the tides into enormous monsters. Jerry, my brother's best friend who was an avid surfer, was out with me and we both caught the same wave. We had been waiting for close to two hours for the perfect wave, knowing that it would come.

Jerry was adorable as a teenager and is even handsomer as an adult
My brother and I called him The Third Sibling. :)
We cut left across the front of it, chasing the barrel of the wave as it wrapped around itself, all the way out its end, racing out of the water onto the shallower waters of the shore before we could be devoured by the foam. We were quite literally spat out onto the foam by the crashing wave.

Riding inside the barrel of a wave. Photo from the internet, but just so you guys can understand what it feels like! You wait for hours, days, weeks...you hunt for the beach with the perfect wave just for the opportunity of riding the perfect barrel. And it only lasts a handful of seconds. Unless you are fortunate and brave enough to surf the likes of Indo, Pipeline, Domes, Gold Coast, etc...large, perfect waves mean you can ride a single wave for much more than just a handful of seconds!
Roaring with laughter, Jerry and I grabbed our boards and ran out of the water right as the storm hit land! We had waited for our wave and received it!

All of this I discovered thanks to Carlos and my love for him. I never would have snagged that $20 foam board at Walmart if it hadn't been for knowing that this was his favorite sport.

This photo is relevant because it was taken during my last surf season in Puerto Rico, during the long-distance relationship with Carlos. I grabbed my best friend at the time and we drove around the island on the weekends, visiting all of my favorite beaches and exploring bucket list places, and slowly saying good-bye. Breda also had an SLR and we had a blast taking photos of everything and one another just 'cause.
I last visited Arroyo 9 years ago. When we lived in South Florida, Carlos and I would laugh at the poor souls that attempted to surf the pathetic little waves of Fort Lauderdale Beach. "They have no idea!" we'd say, shaking our heads.

I always entertained the idea of having my mom ship my boards to me, but it seemed pointless to pay the outrageous shipping for such awkwardly sized oversize items given the lack of real waves to surf.

How did I come to own two boards? I acquired  the first as a total noob. I weighed 115 lbs and bought a 45 cm board, which is what a 6' tall person should use, simply because it was at half price due to missing wrapping material and a scratch across the top surface...and it was purple and blue! It was a Challenger bodyboard, which are now considered "vintage" since the company that made them doesn't exist anymore.

Learning to ride the Challenger
The board was way too big but I learned to maneuver it anyway...which resulted in several wipe-outs when I finally bought my second board: a 42 cm Manta board more suited to my height and weight at the time, and I used the same force to turn it that I had used on the Challenger.

I loved that Manta board. The Challenger would go to my brother and later Carlos would surf on it when we visited the island.

And so I left all of that behind when I moved to Florida for Carlos. I didn't just leave my horse, my career, and my family behind: I also left the waves and my bodyboards and a beach that was the resting place for my soul.

And for the longest time I didn't miss any of it. We had pretty beaches in South Florida. None that inspired us to surf again, but we could spend time on the beach if we chose to. My problem is that I have never been one to just lay on the beach to tan or read or nap: I like walking or running down the shore, exploring anything I can find, and either jumping up and down with the waves in the water or riding them outright. Flat water with no rocks nor tide pools was mind-numbingly boring for both of us...and that is how during our first year in Maryland we visited the Potomac River more than we ever visited the beach during our last 3 years in South Florida put together!

But this year...this year the ocean called for the first time in over 12 years.

The in-laws had planned a spectacular visit to the island that got cancelled due to the entire family getting new jobs (Carlos's brother and his brother's wife too!) I had been longing for that trip simply because we would be staying at Rincon, my second most-favoritest town on the island, known for its international surfing level waves. I was surprised by the viciousness with which I wanted to be on that beach again. To be on a beach with waves.

We went to RBTR instead...but the sea still called with the driving force of an uncontrollable addiction.

And so one morning I woke up and said to Carlos, "I need to go to the beach. And I have always wanted to go to the Outer Banks...so we're going!"

The Outer Banks has been a long-time bucket list item since South Florida. But the drive from South Florida was FIFTEEN HOURS...so you can understand why we hadn't ever attempted it. From Maryland? SIX hours!

Trip from South Florida on the left, trip from Maryland on the right.
Except I didn't look at the map nor the drive when I decided to look for a hotel. I figured it was between 6-8 hours, which was totally doable for decent beaches (as in Not Ocean City). I simply googled "oceanfront hotel outer banks" and checked out the first hotel that popped up.

The prices were reasonable, you could see water from both sides of the hotel (Pamlico Sound on one side and the Atlantic on the other) in addition to the Hatteras Island lighthouse; and it had excellent reviews online. I checked out some of the other hotels on Hatteras and Lighthouse View continued to be the best of them all, so I booked the trip. I didn't even bother comparing to hotels on other Outer Banks islands.

I then showed Carlos, who mapped the trip out and laughed when he saw which island it was: "You chose the eastern-most point of NC to visit! If you wanted to be as far away as possible from the continental US, you most certainly achieved it!" That had not been the goal but I laughed and shrugged when he pointed it out.

I didn't look at a map until we were already driving towards Hatteras Island.

It was the island that had chosen us, and I didn't need to confirm anything about it to know that this was where we were destined to go. I didn't second-guess anything: we packed up and got in the car ridiculously early on the morning of Friday September 9th, swung by the barn to check on the girls, and then got on the highway that would take us south.

I drove for the first four hours or so of the trip, switching places with Carlos when we were nearing the islands so I could take photos.

There is something about driving fast to electronic music over an infinite flat bridge with water on both sides.

We smelled the salt in the air before we saw the ocean. "Roll the windows down, please!" I said to Carlos, which he was more than happy to do, and the car was filled with hot humid sea-salted air. We raised the volume of the radio and cruised on.

We both knew that the islands had very strange names: Duck, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills. And then more normal names like Roanoke (which has a pretty creepy history) and Avon. We entered the islands through Southern Shores and made our way south on Route 12, with me looking up the stories behind the stranger names of the islands as we drove through them and reading them out loud to Carlos.

Kitty Hawk
Carlos and I joked that we envisioned an animal like a griffon, except half cat and half hawk (instead of half eagle, half lion), every time we heard this name.

Historians note that the town first showed up on English maps in the early 1700s as "Chickehauk" and "Chickahawk." By the late 1700s, land deeds referred to settlements there as "Kitty huk," "Kitty hark," "KittyHawk," and finally "Kitty Hawk."
According to "The Outer Banks of North Carolina," a book by historian David Stick, another story traces the roots to the large number of mosquito hawks found in the area. So the nickname "Skeeter Hawk" could have morphed over time into "Kitty Hawk," Stick writes.
Stick also states that the term "kitty" once meant "wren," the little songbird commonly found in North Carolina. Thus, "kitty hawk" could have derived from the mosquito hawks seen on the Outer Banks that preyed on wrens for food.
You can read more here.

I thought it was fascinating that no one really knows where the name of the town comes from! Though the evolution of the Native American name rings truest to me, mainly because most of the town names on my own island come from the Taino language that was originally spoken there: Maunabo, Yabucoa, Guayama, Guaynabo, etc. My uncle wrote his doctorate's thesis (he has a ph.D in History) on the names of Puerto Rican towns and barrios. Fascinating book.

Kill Devil Hills
I think this was one of my favorites, because of the rum ships part of the story. This is so...island! Text is from this link.

Perhaps the most plausible explanation - and the one the town officially endorses - stems from rum-carrying ships that sometimes ran aground off the treacherous barrier islands during Colonial days.
In 1728, William Byrd of Virginia, hardly a fan of Carolinians, wrote that "Most of the Rum they get in this Country comes from New England, and is so bad and unwholesome, that it is not improperly called 'Kill-Devil,' and there is a story that the ship loaded with this 'Kill-Devil Rum' was wrecked opposite the sand hills, thus accounting for the name," according to Stick's book.
The town's Visitor's Guide skips the smarmy comments from Byrd and just says the shipwrecked rum, later scavenged by locals and stashed in the dunes, "was strong enough to 'kill the devil.' " And the name stuck.
The guide also mentions another tale, this one much more fun but far less believable:
As legend goes, a local man once tried to extort money from the devil himself, then trapped him in a deep pit atop one of the many tall dunes that shape the town's rugged landscape.
Also: Kill Devil Hills is the REAL place where the Wrights Brothers flew for the first time, from one of the town's sand dunes. Not in Kitty Hawk, though the confusion comes from the fact that the Wrights Brothers lived in Kitty Hawk. We drove past the monument in Kill Devil Hills.

Nags Head
Another one that made us grin from ear-to-ear, as there is a similar (though I guess somewhat reversed!) story around the legend of La Rogativa in Old San Juan in PR.

The tale that named Nags Head has it all: pirates, tall ships, the new world and a lawless sea.
As they carved their living from a scrubby and barren landscape, the story goes, locals along the North Carolina waterfront turned to the ships sailing off their coast. At night, they would tie a lantern around an old horse's neck and walk the nag up and down the sand dunes.
Captains at sea saw the bobbing light and thought it came from an anchored ship. But upon sailing closer to what they thought was safe harbor, their ships would wreck on the shoals. That's when local "land pirates" attacked, plundered and made off with the booty.
It's an awfully good story, and a popular one. The logo for the town's recent 50th anniversary even features a gleeful-looking horse carrying a lantern around its neck.
But is it true?
"I think it's a legend," said Sarah Downing, assistant curator of the Outer Banks History Center. 
There are other theories, but that was my favorite one!

I'm not going to go into each and every island name, as you guys can look them up if you're intrigued :), but those were the ones we liked the best of the names we looked up.

The sea oat-covered dunes were so different and so beautiful from the island beach landscapes we grew up on. There are no dunes in Puerto Rico. Sand rapidly turns to earth as you move inland and then the earth becomes true hills that roll up into jungle-covered mountains. There are palm trees and, on the south side of the island, you will also find mangle trees.

Mangle trees on Gilligan's Island, a tiny piece of land off of the coast of Guanica, PR.
I love anything that's different, that throws a ripple in my perception of "normal". I loved the OBX's dunes because, to me, they were like something out of a movie or a dream.

We finally arrived in Hatteras. We drove right past our hotel at 1:30 pm because check-in was at 3:00 pm, and decided to go check out the nearby lighthouse.

Hatteras Lighthouse
Park offices at the lighthouse. Loved the light pattern on the wooden deck here.
The lighthouse up close. It's $8 to go to the top. We decided to skip that part because I was in a hurry.
I just wanted to get my bare feet on the sand already. Carlos obliged: the lighthouse is right next to a public beach.

I have seen so many paintings like this photo.
That iron wall was part of the remnants of the lighthouse's original location. Remember this iron wall! It will come up again later.

The waves would crash against the wall and the foam and spray would fly up through channels in the iron.
And then this beach.
My brother has a series of worlds that he visits in dreams when he is troubled. I have an island. It is not my island; no one else really lives on it in my dreams. But I always go there in dreams when I am stressed, either as a distraction or to resolve problems with specific people, never remember the dreams until the problems are resolved: that's when they come back to me. The dream island is both my battleground and my resting place. I used to visit Carlos a lot on that island when I worried about him constantly, first during my platonic love for him and later during our long-distance relationship.

I now looked at this beach in front of me, at the beach of Cape Hatteras, and every hair on my body stood on end because I recognized it: it was a beach from my dream island. It is the first time that I have seen one of the dream island's beaches in person. The steep shore, the roaring surf, and the way I felt looking upon it, right down to the eerie sense of deja-vu. I had visited it just this past week and had forgotten the dream until now.

"I dreamed of this beach," I said to Carlos quietly in disbelief. And before he could respond, I ran down to the wet sand...to stand at the water's edge so I could stare at the waves. I wanted to step into them, but their pounding roar was intimidating because, despite having dreamed about it before, it was still an unfamiliar beach. Carlos didn't chase after me; he simply stayed behind, waiting and watching.

I always used to talk to the sea in my head, just like I would have talked to a horse.

"I am afraid of you," I said in my mind to the waves as they pounded with ferocity on the shore. "I don't know you and I am afraid that you will hurt me."

"We won't hurt you," they said. "We have been waiting for you."

And I swear that suddenly the sea calmed. The waves were still coming but they slowed so that they were lapping at the shore instead of beating it to a pulp.

"Come," they said.

I stepped gingerly into the foam, and the waves pulled back, tugging at my feet insistently. I took several more steps into the water and the waves returned, splashing playfully around me.

"Run," they said. "Go run like you always do."

And so I turned and took off running along the shore, splashing in the shallow water over the hard-packed sand. I have been doing this since I can remember, every time I re-encounter the sea after a hiatus. The waves remained gentle, inviting, as I raced my way down the shore.

I had run about 1/8 of a mile before I realized that my injured leg and glute did not hurt anymore.

Nothing hurt. 

It was just the waves and me, as I turned around and sprinted back towards Carlos, zig-zagging across the foam as the water broke and rolled around me.

He had no idea what was going on, and he still took pictures.
I was out of breath when I finally reached him. I stopped, facing the water, and thought at the waves, "Thank you. Thank you for healing me. Thank you for allowing me to run again."

Seagulls cried overhead as the surf continued. I climbed back up to the highest part of the shore and the waves returned to their previous pounding.

"Take it away, please," I begged them. "Please take it all away." Not just the physical pain but also the ache in my soul lately.

"That's why we called you," they said. "That's why we brought you here."

Like the waves of Arroyo, these waves also broke over a sandy bottom.
I turned back to Carlos, choking back the unexplainable tears of relief. "Let's go," I said. We were both starving and we wanted to grab a light lunch before checking into the hotel.


We got back into the car and pulled up a list of bars that Carlos had looked up: they were all supposed to be playing music that evening, so I checked out reviews and we went to one called The Wreck, which was at the opposite end of the island only 20 minutes away.

It was on a boardwalk with a handful of other shops.

The docks faced west, and thus the Pamlico Sound. Carlos was very excited about this: he wanted to come back out in this direction to watch the sun set over the water that afternoon. We hadn't seen the sun set over water since we lived in Tampa, where sunsets seem to sink into the Gulf Coast.

It was a fun little place, with a great selection of beer on draft (Fat Tire!) and a menu that made it hard to choose any one thing because everything sounded amazing. Also: starving!

We finally settled on an appetizer of loaded nachos, which had black beans, veggie chili (I'm not vegetarian but I'm always up for trying vegetarian dishes; Carlos didn't even notice that part...he just saw "chili"! Haha) shredded cheddar cheese, tomato and corn salsa, and guacamole. It was just enough to reasonably fill us without feeling stuffed.

The place had character. We took our time.

Carlos asked them if they would have live music that night and they said no, it had been the previous evening (Thursday). The bartender recommended one place but then one of the guys from the back spoke up and said the Lighthouse Sports Bar would have reggae music that night: he knew because he was the drum player for the band! The bar was actually within walking distance of our hotel!

And so this was our goal, see? This is why we had no plans: we were going to let the island tell us where to go.

We still had spare time, so we wandered over into one of the other stores on the docks. There was a Life is Good store; Carlos loves their T-shirts. I was surprised when we walked in and found this:

Kites!! So many kites! Kites everywhere!
Carlos did not buy a shirt, but I walked out with a long-sleeved navy blue one that said, "Let the sea set you free," across the front. It was the only one in my size. It had been waiting.

It was time for check-in. We got back into the car and drove back across the dunes to our hotel, deciding on the way that we would drive back in this direction at sundown so that we could watch the sun set over the water again.

We had only just arrived and I was already madly in love with this island. I had had no idea at the time of booking the hotel, but Hatteras is the largest, quietest and most remote of the Outer Banks. And that is exactly what I had been looking for.

We checked in uneventfully and made way to our room on the third floor. Considering the price we paid, this was one of the nicer hotels we've stayed at. I would have loved to have an ocean view but the Sound + lighthouse view was enough. Carlos was impressed. I was not surprised: this place had found me.

We changed into swimsuits and ran down to the beach.

View of our hotel from the beach.
Section of beach directly in front of the hotel.

I ran around and played in the surf, splashing and leaping over the baby waves until I was thoroughly drenched and used to the iciness of the water. Carlos just followed me around like a parent, grinning as he watched my regression to 6 years of age, taking a million photos like he always does. 

I finally dove into the water and leaped up and down with the waves for a bit. Carlos said it was too cold to join me; he was enjoying himself just seeing how much fun I was having. 

The undertow sucked and pushed at my feet but I danced with it, unafraid. There was a deep trench only 5' into the water where you abruptly went from thigh-high water to neck high, formed by the crashing waves. I finally decided to return to shore to join Carlos but the water was pulling at me. Every time I took a step forward out of the water, the tide would pull me back.

"Don't leave yet," the waves said.

"But I have to. I'll be back tomorrow. Carlos wants to go watch the sun set. Let me out, please," I thought. 

"Fine," the waves said. And a tiny, powerful wave came up from beneath me as I was trying to paddle back onto the sand and literally lifted me off my feet. I barely had time to stiffen up so I could bodysurf it before it had dumped me unceremoniously on the shallow foam covering the wet sand. 

I just sat there laughing my head off as the waves splashed over my legs and around me, pushing now. "You wanted to go. You can go now," they said. 

I laughed and laughed. 
And Carlos caught the whole thing in photos.
Coincidence? Maybe. But boy was that perfect timing!

I ended up running into the water one more time so I could get all of the sand out of my bathing suit bottom!

We returned to the area in front of the hotel and lay on our towels for a bit, watching the clouds in the sky, the gulls winging overhead, and listening to the pounding surf.

At around 5:30 pm we got up and ran back to the hotel room to shower and change so we could go chase that sunset. We thought we had time, so we stopped at a liquor store next door to buy a bottle of wine...only to realize that they don't sell wine or beer at liquor stores in NC.

"I told you," I said to Carlos. He has gotten so used to Maryland's alcohol laws that he has completely forgotten the way it was in Florida: you could buy beer and wine anywhere, and the liquor store was for hard liquor exclusively. This is one of the things that I love about the South! "Ask them where the nearest grocery store is, " I said, as Carlos went up to the register.

After he confirmed for himself that they had no beer or wine inside the store, the guy at the cash register pointed him in the direction of Conner's, a supermarket right across the street.

We found my favorite red wine...and I might have gone a little gaga over the HUGE selection of EVERYTHING that they had in this little store. From firewood to foam coolers and towels to quinoa and organic preserves and every type of cheese imaginable. It was rapidly getting dark outside and Carlos almost had to drag me out of the store by my hair in order to get me out of there!

"Come on!" he said, "We'll come back tomorrow!"

"Wait...look at this!" I had defaulted to serious island time. Islanders are normally fashionably late to everything.

"I'm paying! I'm leaving! Bye..." He waved at me with the wine bottle from the cash register and I ran out the door after him. The girls at the register laughed.

(I am my mother's daughter: we have a thing for grocery stores with large selections of interesting things. Ask Carlos about my relationship with Wegmans...)

And that is how we ended up literally chasing the sunset!

Carlos pulled into a marina with a waterfront restaurant when the sun was just about to touch the water and we leaped out of the car so we could run down to the docks.

It was so beautiful it was unreal.

We watched the sun disappear behind the water, then realized there was a sort of nearby inlet that we could drive to, right next to the marina, so we headed there.

And we watched the colors fade.
And I just wanted to be a part of it.
By then the mosquitoes were out and eating us alive, so we scrambled back into the car to head back in the general direction of the hotel. 

Sunset in the rearview.
Even as darkness set in, the beauty didn't stop. 
We were starving by then but it was too early for reggae: it wouldn't start until 10:00 pm. So we looked around at which restaurants seemed full as we drove by, and noticed one called Sandbar & Grille, a two story building set away from the main road, right next to the Sound. A quick Google search revealed that it was decent, so we pulled into the parking lot. It took a minute to find a place to park: it was packed!

We waited for a table for about 30 minutes while sitting at the bar with Blue Moon pints. It was a fun little place. The bartender and waitress were lovely, and their key lime pie was to die for.

And then we headed for Lighthouse Sports Bar. 

Towards the end of the evening, I had been super gung-ho about going whereas Carlos was sort of "meh" about it. But the moment we walked into the bar, I wanted to leave. I'm not sure why. I just felt...uncomfortable. And I can't really pinpoint why. Nothing specific happened to make me feel that way. It was an unusual bar in that it felt like someone's home bar and living room from the 70's: really cool, actually! It was a large, open area with couches and bar tables to sit at around the dance floor, and a couple of pool tables on the far end of the floor. But I felt uncomfortable enough to not want to dance. So we stood around and enjoyed a couple of songs and right about then is when it hit me how very tired I was: it had been a very, very long day...and we headed back to the hotel.

I woke up the next morning to the alarm I had set for 6:00 am. I wanted to watch the sunrise because it would be happening in front of the hotel, over the Atlantic. I let Carlos sleep (I had told him I would be doing this), changed into a bikini top and shorts, and made my way down to the beach.

The sky was just starting to show its colors as I walked onto the sand. 

View from the stairs, taken from our side of the building.

I walked towards the "wild side" of the beach, in the direction of the dunes. A large sandpiper was my only company (I think he was some sort of Tattler sandpiper)
I walked along the shore as I waited.
The early morning breeze was warm and the foam from the waves was not icy, as I had expected.
And then the sun broke forth over the horizon.
I continued walking, waiting for it to rise above the clouds.
And when it did, I stopped. There was a large piece of driftwood conveniently lying in the sand right there, so I went over and sat on it to watch the spectacle before me. But as the sun rose above the thin strip of clouds over the horizon, I couldn't just sit there. I stood up and walked to the water's edge. 

I still have a hard time believing that I was really in front of this, that I witnessed it in person with my own two eyes. Like those of the sunset the night before, these are completely unedited cell phone photos.  I didn't tweak a thing about them; there was nothing to alter! 

I mean, seriously: this is a cell phone photo!!!
The sea looked like molten metal in the light.
I felt like I was in a Christian Riese Lassen painting.
I can't describe the way I felt. I looked out upon that stunning, stunning gorgeousness and my heart filled to the point that it just about burst with it, with the unbearable beauty in front of me. I had never before witnessed something so beautiful that I could hardly stand it.

The light shone through the backs of the waves, turning them to gold and copper.

And I thought, "I have found my Arroyo again at last." And the tears welled, overflowed and streamed down my face. And I both laughed and sobbed, because as always, the best things are those that find us when we need them most.
There is no concurrence, no coincidence: it is written.
I waited until the sun was well above the water, turning the entire sky and ocean to a pale, pale gold, before slowly making my way back to the hotel.

I loved this little guy. He let me get pretty close to him.
Back up the stairs to our room.
Again: completely unedited cell phone pic. The sea and the sky really were that color.
I woke Carlos up.

"How was it?" he asked.

"You need to come with me tomorrow," I said. "It is well worth waking up early for!"

As it would turn out, August through October are the most beautiful months on the Outer Banks. Not only had we unintentionally chosen the first week of the off-season to go (dramatic decreases in the price of everything), we had chosen a date right smack in the middle of the time of year when sunrises and sunsets are their most spectacular. You know, if we had tried to plan it that way, it would have never happened.

There was a little restaurant within walking distance of the hotel that I had looked up to make sure it was decent and affordable. They had great reviews and they served breakfast, so that's where we went.

It was called Diamond Shoals, named after a shifting sand bank off the coast of the Outer Banks that is considered one of the most dangerous parts of the Atlantic Seaboard, responsible for over 600 shipwrecks. It's another really cool story and you can go read about it here. There were ship models and paintings of stormy seas all over the restaurant, which is what prompted us to look up the name. "This is definitely named after something important!" we said. It is.

Breakfast portions were huge and the coffee was amazing.

And then we walked back to the hotel, grabbed the car keys and drove over to Conner's again, where I swept up and down the aisles checking everything out before deciding on food for a light lunch. I ended up choosing manchego cheese sticks rolled in serrano ham, coconut water, blackberries and...I stopped at the grapes section because two types of grapes caught my eye: muscadine and scuppernong. "Scupper-what?" I thought. They were huge and round and were every shade of green and reminded me of our Puerto Rican quenepa fruit, aka "Spanish lime" (they have NOTHING in common with limes, btw, other than the color of their rind!)

So I grabbed a pound of scuppernongs as well. As it turns out, they are the North Carolina state fruit, and I am so glad I went with my instinct because OH MY GOD they were amazing!! Tart on the outside, mildly sweet and soft on the inside.

And we grinned over the girl doing her grocery shopping completely barefoot. "Life goals," Carlos said. That's right up his alley for real.

Island beach towns are the absolute best, guys.

Back at the hotel, we put everything in the fridge and ran down to the beach, where we spent the rest of the morning.

We walked up and down the shore to both warm up and get used to the water's temperature: for whatever reason, it was colder now than it had been that morning! And we eventually dove in. And talked about surfing and bodyboarding and waves and island beaches and all the stuff we miss that we don't normally talk about because it's shelved in the recesses of our memories, lying dormant until now.

For the first time since moving to the US twelve years ago, I wanted to ride a wave as badly as when I used to live on the island.

Around noon we headed back to the room so Carlos could take shelter from the sun: he burns. We had lunch and then decided to drive around and see if we could find a decent surf shop. We wanted to look at bodyboard prices. Not necessarily to buy something right then and there, but to see how the market had changed during our long hiatus.

We drove around and explored. This was a really cool house and it was for sale!
I had missed this sight: surfboards on top of one car, ocean kayaks on top of the other!
Yes, this is an alien spaceship and it is a Hatteras Island icon.
Read about it here!
There was one place that was advertising as "everything 50% off!" We walked into the store, took one look at the clothes rack, a quick look at the bodyboard selection, and walked right back out.

It's not that they were 50% off. It's that they sold very, very cheap imitations of high-end gear and clothes...We both used to spend a large portion of our time in real-deal surf shops. Billabong, Roxy, Volcom were clothes brands I wore. My fave flip-flop brands were Reef and Sanuk. The store was fine for your average tourist that just wants stuff for their beach vacation though.

We stopped at another surf shop and they had the right gear clothes-wise and surfboard-wise, but all of their bodyboards except for four were some obscure brand named Hydro...and when they are discounted to $35 from $75...well, let's just say that bodyboards are like anything else: you get what you pay for. Cheap materials mean your board is more likely to take in water and sink, instead of floating and allowing you to skim over the water. We turned around and headed back out. It was understandable though: we hadn't seen a single person on a bodyboard, so the store was catering to the crowd they have on the island.

BUT... is highly likely that bodyboarding is in our future again now. :)

There was a place called Uncle Eddy's that had a mini golf outside and advertised homemade frozen custard. Carlos wanted to go (he loves frozen custard) but the place was still closed when we pulled up. We decided to drop off the car at the hotel and walk back, since it was that close. As we were getting into the car, two paramedics arrived in their ambulance. One of them stopped us to ask, "Have you been to Uncle Eddy's before?"


"It's worth waiting the 10 minutes until they open!" she said.

"Oh no, we're coming right back!" we said. I grinned. Again, the island showing us the way.

We did come right back, on foot, and the ice cream really was amazing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, walking up and down the shoreline and swimming in the water. We realized we could walk all the way to the lighthouse; it was only a mile up the beach!

I love this photo. It's a still from a video. I stood on the cement wall and lifted my hands just as that monster wave rose up out of the water. As I brought my hands up behind my head and it crashed against the wall just as I touched my head. It felt as if I'd invoked it.

Remember the iron wall next to the lighthouse, from the beginning of this trip?

There were channels in the iron that funneled the water upwards every time the waves hit the wall.

There were lots of jokes about these photos (durh) but I do love them anyway!...
Beach dog. <3
Hot blazing sun.
Fishermen. They were all over, and so very into their sport!
Afterwards, we headed back out to the far end of the island to watch the sun set again.

I love when he wears the long-sleeved shirts with ripped jeans and flip-flops.
We saved the coconut water bottles so we could use them for this...I poured wine into them so we could bring it with us for the sunset.

We stopped in the dunes area because I wanted to check out a side trail that led to the Pamlico Sound.

I wanted to sit here to watch sundown but Carlos insisted that there was a strip of land between the spot where the sun would set and the water. I rolled my eyes and acquiesced.
This place just never stopped with the beauty, though.

Back in the car, with the sea oats against the sky.
We drove all the way to The Wreck to watch from the docks...and then realized there was no place where you could be right next to the water to watch the sunset. So we ended up chasing the sunset again and driving back to the marina from the day before, where we just parked at the inlet and sat on the rocks with our wine.

The problem with living in a place like this is that you would eventually start taking it for granted.

And then dinner. A friend had recommended the Buxton Munch, which was right next to the liquor store from the day before, but as it turned out they only open for lunch during the off season. :( Across the parking lot was a place called Rusty's Surf & Turf and after a quick Google search to check reviews and the menu, we walked in.

Oh my GOD the food here was incredible!! The full menu isn't online so I can't remember the exact name of what I ordered, but it was brisket soft tacos with a side of rice and black beans and it was out of this world.

There were clear skies and a half moon so after dinner we went for long walk on the beach, going all the way up to the lighthouse again. It was beautiful and none of it showed up in photos other than this.

We went to bed relatively early because I would be dragging Carlos out to the beach to watch the sunrise with me.

It was worth it, again. I'll just let the photos speak for themselves.

The light of the lighthouse was on right up until 7:00 am.

Our footprints.
And then I followed the path of light into the water.

We walked back to Diamond Shoals for breakfast and hit the water one last time before packing up our stuff to return home. 

I played with the waves for a good hour. Carlos had way too much fun getting slow-mo video so he could get higher resolution stills from them. 

And then it was time to go. 

I looked at the sea one last time from the dry sand on the beach, and searched and found that all of the ache was gone. I was free. The wind whipped around my hair and I closed my eyes and opened them again, letting them sweep over the pounding surf. I refused to say good-bye to the water.

"We will be back," I said to the sea.

"We'll be here," the waves said.

I am not capsized anymore.