Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On the road again

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of working with a great NM-based USAC crew in Carlsbad during a three-stage omnium. I had worked this race once before after meeting the NM coordinator at Collegiate Nationals two years back. Ever since, Pamala has invited me to be on the crew.
The only "green" is on the signs
It was a laid-back weekend. The time trial, for which I was the starter on Friday afternoon, went off without a hitch, and in the two road races on Saturday and Sunday we had only a few minor crashes. Eight riders from my club in Lubbock had made it out to Cavern City, and they all did very well and better. what a joy to see my friends race!

Our crew worked super-well together. they are all good commissaires, but more importantly, they are really nice people. We all went out for dinner at the Trinity Hotel on Saturday evening (the best place in town, which obviously doesn't mean much in Carlsbad!), and that's the best time to bond. Thanks for welcoming me, Tom, Reid, Joanna, Michael, Jeff, Sharon, Bill, and of course Pamala, in no particular order.
Inexpensive fixer-upper outside of Brownfield
On both days I had the same entertaining and competent driver as last year, Valerie. even though she likes to shoot a few hundred rounds on the range while I prefer to hug a tree, we got along super-well and had fun while following both the Cat. 5 as well as the P/1/2/3 fields. we have a lot of things in common (travel, diving, food, etc.), and I'm already looking forward to coming back out next year and continuing our non-stop chat in her mega bubba truck (carbon footprint of a 777!).
That's why the places are called Levelland, Plainview, and Brownfield
The drive back home was about as entertaining as a drive through eastern NM and West Texas can be. Rolling through Hobbs, it is always better to roll up the windows and lock the doors, lest one wants to become another statistic. The potash mines and nuclear facility (WIPP) in the Carls bad area soon give way to oil-field trash and then the uninterrupted barren cotton fields that come blowing by Lubbock whenever the wind blows from the west. The only green one sees is on the road signs....
Endless vistas on the way home....
And now I am in the DFW airport, with an hour or two to kill before taking the hop to Europe for two weeks of visits and sightseeing. I suppose I'm on the road again.
With Marion, Sherman's wife, in the AC in Dallas—chance encounter


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Macaw Lodge, Costa Rica

Self-sustaining Macaw Lodge in the Costa Rican coastal mountains
It's pretty late to finally write this entry, but I have been crazily busy ever since returning from Costa Rica about 10 days ago—yet, I really wanted to post this. At least I managed to write my review for Tripadvisor in a timely fashion, and as they say, better late than not at all.
With my old buddy Rafael at the waterfall
After my five-day race and the work that surrounded it were all done, my old friend Rafael Pacheco, organizer of the top-notch Endürance marathon mountain bike races series, picked me up at my hotel in San Jose. We had been in touch with one another beforehand, and he had planned a two-day boys' getaway. I just had no idea where we were going to go.
View of the Pacific coastline on the way to Macaw Lodge
Turns out, Pablo has an old childhood friend, Pablo Gordienko, who apart from being a heckuva businessman and land developer also happens to be a hobby horticulturalist. Rafael only told me that we were going to spend the next 24 hours in a mountain lodge and that I would like it. First we had to pick up a bag of stuff for Pablo at his home, situated in a super-swank subdivision that he had developed—and which now is home to the president of Costa Rica. You get the idea. Rafael's old pick-up truck was certainly not de riguer. Pablo's house was quite amazing, and I totally loved the way he had incorporated the roots of an old tree into the floor of his exercise room.
Pablo's tree ...
... and the intruding root
We drove from San Jose back down to the coast, past the crocodile bridge, and then off into the coastal mountains. The final 15 kilometers were on a rough dirt road, and Rafael was in his element passing lesser drivers on the right and almost nailing this guy on his scooter, with a totally flat rear tire. Add a sudden tropical downpour, and it was what you'd expect from Central America.
We were going at least 30 mph, downhill, in a turn, on gravel...
When we turned from the dirt road into the compound, we were greeted by an alley of bananas and palms—some of the many thousands of trees that Pablo has planted over the course of the past dozen or so years since he bought the 1,000+ hectares of land here in the forest. And then we entered the manicured front yard of the lodge.

A few more years, and these plants will be fully grown
Macaw Lodge has a country club ambiance
Pablo built the lodge as a business endeavor, but I suspect it is really just an excuse for him to fully enjoy his hobby and great love: horticulture. When we arrived, several delegates from the forest ministry were on-site to get a tour of what he is doing here. We joined them. Pablo is a veritable encyclopedia when it comes to identifying plants, their origins, their uses, their symbioses with wildlife. The lodge's grounds are one big botanical garden, with untold varieties of bamboo, palms, flowers, and everything else that grows.
As exotic as it comes...
Inspecting the giant bamboo with the forestry guys
Hand-sized spider
The forestry delegation left before long, and the only guests at Macaw were Rafael and I as well as a young Dutch couple (who had spent a week in California when they had not realized that there is a San Jose, CA, as well as a San Jose, Costa Rica—we had quite the laugh!). Two cooks prepared our meals, and Pablo took great pains to show us more of his kingdom. Sustainability has become a huge buzzword, and green and organic are just as hip. Macaw was built by local workers of local materials; look around, and you will be amazed by the beautiful wood. The stone has been cut and polished from what was found here, and the large array of solar cells means that the entire lodge is independent of outside power. (Don't fret, there is a totally reliable internet connection, and you can recharge your cell phone and laptop in the central area; however, there are no power outlets in the gorgeous rooms. The water, of course, is solar heated.) There are no glass windows—just screens that allow you to listen to the sounds of the rainforest when you go to sleep and when you wake up in the middle of the night. This place is heaven.
Macaw Lodge (8 rooms) as seen from the porch of one of four cabanas in the forest
These colors are real
My room in the morning sunshine
Quite the luxurious shower/bathroom view
We learned about how Pablo is trying to develop gardens that will make the lodge independent of outside vegetables and fruit. He has researched the plants, their needs, and their preferences in regard to growing locations. On another hike he showed us the lodge-owned sawmill and how refuse is transformed into an organic fertilizer. His pride of what he has created and continues to build clearly showed. He has a vision, not only for his place but rather on how Costa Rica can show the world how sustainability truly can work.
The yoga area—airy, peaceful, and made of local materials
Some areas look like a botanical garden
Pablo explains his Bio-Charcoal project
I am sure that the days when only four guests are staying at Macaw are numbered. On the one hand, Pablo wants to attract more business (he's hosted a few yoga retreats, and bird watching is another activity for which this place is ideal), but it almost seems like an afterthought. He also owns a hotel on a beach about one hour away and envisions a partnership between the two properties. I had all kinds of ideas and we had a healthy discussion about his business, and in the week since my return Angela and I have been putting a few things on paper that may (or may not) result in a future business relationship with Macaw Lodge. We'll see. For the moment, I'd be quite happy to spend a little more time out there, be it walking through the forest, riding a mountain bike (something that Rafael wants to develop in conjunction with Pablo), or simply sitting in the waterfall that is only a 10 minute hike away.
This one is called "lipstick" bamboo
The mountains in the background of the cabana are part of a National Park
Roberto, the lodge's Indiana Jones, confers with Rafael
Skinny dipping in the waterfall
Kingfisher, just outside of the dining area
I could post literally dozens more of stunning pictures, but at some point I have to stop. If you want more information about Macaw, you know how to get a hold of me. I'll be happy to put you in touch with Pablo. Just be prepared to learn A LOT about plants and the Costa Rican rainforest! If more people with a vision like Pablo's existed, we would not see the type of deforestation (and resulting permanent erosion) that Rafael and I spotted on the way back to the main highway.
Cheap homesteads, where the owner slaughters the forest to graze cattle ...
... result in the topsoil eroding and sliding away, not able to hold moisture...
... and the lumber is carted away.
I prefer to remember Macaw Lodge and its biodiversity.
Parakeet—the toucans and macaws proved to be too agile for my camera
I couldn't get a good shot of the little black and green frog, so this one had to do
Not sure whether that's a callas
Pablo is reintroducing the original coffee trees as imported by the conquistadors
Hasta luego, and thank you again, Pablo and Rafael!


Monday, March 3, 2014

Pura Vida!, once again

Fidel lives somewhere down there
For the past week or so I have been in Costa Rica for a bike race, which now is finished. Coming to Costa Rica is always exciting, and I am grateful for these opportunities. I had never worked a stage race down here, and so it was with anticipation of seeing different parts of this relatively small country that I embarked on this trip.
Lago Nicaragua, on the approach of the northern border of Costa Rica
Not exactly sure about our accommodations for the trip in regard to the various stage starts and finishes I had brought along the Ritchey; thanks to my airline status it doesn't cost me a red cent to take along an extra piece of luggage. Well, to set the stage for some of what is to come, I never even opened the case of the folding bike. In other words: I worked my sweet ass off in those past few days.
With minutes to spare before the finish of Stage 2, this truck rumbles through the arch
Not what you expect in the finish area of a time trial...
When I think back to 1979, when I rode to the Panama Canal and crossed Costa Rica on another Ritchey (which later was stolen from my house; that bike was built by TR when he was a budding frame builder selling frames through Palo Alto, with no decals or serial numbers), there was no traffic down here. Sure, smoke-belching trucks were crawling uphill at 5 mph, and the cities had the occasional honking traffic jam, but that was not traffic. Nowadays, the roads are the same and the big trucks still crawl (albeit a little faster), but there are a gazillion more cars and pick-ups than back then—and the road infrastructure has remained essentially unchanged. The result is a constant traffic jam of Biblical proportions. Just my in-city transfer from the airport to the Team Managers' Meeting at our hotel in San Jose took almost 2 full hours—I changed into my dress shirt, tie, and blazer in the car and had 7 minutes to spare before meeting time.
Traffic marmalade on the way out of town
What all that meant is this: We spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in the backseat of a car, driving endless hours. For example, on the first day of the race we got up at 5:00 a.m., left San Jose half an hour later, and got to the race start around 8:00 a.m. Then the race took place, we did our job, and had to drive back to San Jose to get to the courier's office before 5 p.m. Imagine the traffic jam at that time! And then we were informed that we wouldn't be staying in San Jose after all but rather in the same town where the race had started, so back into the car. Upon arrival around 8:30 p.m. we found out that our rooms no longer existed. It was about 10 p.m. when we were finally installed in an alternate hotel and I could send off the paperwork via e-mail to Switzerland. And the other four days were, essentially, repeats with the exception that we stayed in the hotel in San Jose from then on. We had at least two 7+ hours driving days.
With my team at Parrita, with Carol next to me
When I say "we," I am referring to Carol from Brazil, who was my trainee at this race, and myself. I cannot tell you any other details about the race or the exact nature of our work, but those who know me have an idea of why I was in Costa Rica. Let's leave it at that.
Trainee and trainer in the Pacific
Carol enjoying her fish dinner
The doctora, Edwin the driver, Arturo, and Carol

So, it was five long days. We did see quite a bit of the country, from our car, and there were those times when we were able to really enjoy ourselves. For example, after an infernally hot day in Parrita, on the Pacific coast, we took a 10 km long rutted dirt road (I swear I thought that the rear axle would break in half as our driver, Edwin, showed no mercy) to a small resort where the organizers had arranged for the entire race entourage to have lunch. Of course, whenever and wherever we got to the lunch or dinner table, everybody had already cleared out. We spent 1 1/2 hours on the beach, napping in hammocks, and listening to the palm trees in the wind. Now, that was more like it! On the way back to San Jose, with me already suffering from the runs that eventually hit much of the peloton and most of our team, we had an amazing encounter with river crocodiles on the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. The beasts were lying below us (who were safely standing on the highway bridge) and waiting for fish scum to be thrown by entrepreneurial locals or for one of the tourists to step too closely. Very, very intimidating, to be quite frank! Some of these things were 8 meters or about 24 feet long, and the Brahma cattle on the banks of the river kept their distance. I let the pics do the talking.

Most of our return trips from the race back to the hotel were punctuated by a quick stop at Pops, the local answer to Baskin Robbins. Carol is a definite ice cream junky, and her day wasn't 100% complete until she had two big scoops of something cool and delicious.
Inside the Pops ...
... and with mobile ice cream vendors at the finish line
The last stage of the race was a circuit race around the old airport in San Jose, which was closed something like 60 years ago and converted into a beautiful park. Since it was an 8-lap race, Carol and I got a chance to drive along in one of the commissaire cars for the first two laps. Seeing the action from the inside of the peloton is always an exciting thing.
Before the start of the last stage in San Jose
The course led along beautiful tree-lined streets
The downhill sections were scary at best
After all of our work was done, our doctor, Tibisay, took us on an afternoon excursion to Irazu, the volcano outside of San Jose and Cartago, the old capital. It's quite a drive up to the top, which is almost 3,500 meters high. The volcano erupted the last time in the early 1960s, but now it is dormant. The gate to the caldera closes at 3:30 p.m., so we had to leave the car and walk the remaining mile, or so, but it certainly was worth it. I had been on top of Irazu a few years ago, when I was down here as a mountain bike commissaire, but the top was pretty much shrouded in clouds. But Sunday afternoon was perfect as high winds had cleared the atmosphere and everything looked crisp. There were clouds below us, and it felt like flying.
With the doctora and Carol
Part of the caldera
Amazing plants that have repopulated the volcano in the past 50 years
Just call it Scoliosis Ridge
Color in a hostile and alien world
And now it is Monday morning, and I am waiting for my old friend Rafael to pick me up for two more days of R&R. He is a mountain bike organizer, and before this race we had been in touch about getting together after my work was done. I have no idea what he has up his sleeve, so we will see. But knowing crazy Rafaelito, it will involve lots of Pura Vida!