Hotel Crashing: Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

I’ve got an impressive assortment of bug bites on my legs (and, probably zika), a bruise from ramming right into a concrete stool at the swim-up bar, and a right ear that’s still ringing after a scuba dive.

I have survived another beach resort vacation.

(Actually, we got back from Costa Rica a week ago and luckily, all of those vacation-related injuries have subsided. Especially the ringing right ear, which went on for several days and had me all sorts of freaked out.)

We spent six glorious days at the Westin Golf Resort & Spa, (also known as the Westin Playa Conchal), Starwood’s first Costa Rica all-inclusive property. It’s on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, up north in an area known as Guanacaste. We flew into the Liberia airport, which is about an hour’s drive from the resort.

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Yep, it really does look like that (Image courtesy of Visual Itineraries)

This was actually our third time at this particular property. We first went in 2012 (when I also sustained a few vacation-related injuries) and in 2014, where I don’t remember if I sustained any injuries, so that probably means I absolutely did.

Our first trip, in 2012, we stayed at one of the regular rooms/bungalows (“Deluxe Junior Suite”), which was located on the far northern end of the property (near the beach access).

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Like one of these (Image via Starwood)

It was fine, but when we went back in 2014, we upgraded to the adults-only section known as the Royal Beach Club, which was fabulous! It has its own designated check-in area/lounge, adults-only pool and restaurant with no kids, other than the numerous, painfully young honeymooners we met over the six days.

the-westin-golf-resort-and-spa-playa-conchal_aerial-view-royal-beach-club
RBC area (Image via WestJet.com)

(I will say, the rest of the property is very family-friendly and I highly recommend this place for families).

The rooms at the RBC, as us hipsters call it, were pretty nice in 2014 (I think we stayed in a “Royal Beach Suite,” from what I can remember. We had a balcony with a Jacuzzi tub on it, which seemed a bit odd in a hot, humid, jungle/beach setting.

I’d show you photos except ALL of my previous Costa Rica photos were part of the Great Laptop Meltdown of 2014 and I, quite literally, have no Costa Rica photos…..not from 2012 and not from 2014. It’s all very odd. (And yes, I am currently backing up my photo folders onto an external hard drive as we speak. Thanks for the reminder, Costa Rica)

But, right after our 2014 visit, the property owners closed down both RBC towers and completely renovated the rooms. And they did an amazing job, incorporating lots of really nice (presumably local?) wood, updating the floors and furniture, and replacing the Jacuzzis with cool, modern bathtubs (I still think it’s weird to have an outdoor bathtub on your patio, but XFE used it and was happy).

A lot of the staff at the Westin Playa Conchal and at the Royal Beach Club specifically, remembered us from our previous visits and treated us like total VIPs. We felt really well taken care of.

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Our favorite vacation game at our favorite spot: dominoes at the main lobby bar. 

We chose to return to this property because it’s just an easy fly-and-flop option for us. We know exactly what to expect. We don’t have to make a whole bunch of plans and reservations, which suited us fine since we’re belly-deep in planning our next big trip….to South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar.

We did go scuba diving again one morning, mostly as a refresher since we plan to dive in Zanzibar. We went with Pacific Coast Diving, which we used in 2014. Still a good outfit that’s responsive over email, is located close to the hotel, and picks you up and drops you off in a nice, air-conditioned van. Anyone who’s done a bit of scuba diving knows how rare an air-conditioned dive van is! The diving, however, was a bit meh, and the snorkelers said similar.

And there was the whole ear-ringing thing, which I could have done without. I noticed it after our second dive and it got a bit louder over the course of the evening. By the next morning, it had lowered to a semi-tolerable, steady, annoying pitch that could be drowned out in areas with ambient noise in the background (talking, music, dishes clattering). But at night, when things were quiet? Really, really distracting and disturbing. That lasted about a week or so.

We spent most of our time by the RBC pool, reading books, drinking frosty drinks (like the popular Dirty Monkey – a sort of banana/coffee/chocolate/rum smoothie) and avoiding direct sunlight so I wouldn’t spontaneously combust (ie: burn to a crisp).

We did, however, go to the beautiful Playa Conchal beach early one morning so I could try jet skiing for the first time. I’ve got to say: I’m not really a fan. I guess I just don’t feel the need for speed. Any activity where the instructions start with, “It’s much easier/better if you go faster,” isn’t likely to win me over. I prefer life in the slow-to-medium lane. Adventure-man and James Bond-look-a-like XFE, however, took off like a madman and was killing it all over the ocean waves. He’s clearly not afraid of the throttle (seriously, my hands and arms were so sore from squeezing so tightly in the slow, mid-throttle position).

So that’s it. A brief recap of our brief visit to the Westin Playa Conchal. Now the compulsive obsessing about South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar can truly begin (and has).

Back to Vieques

Photo: DesignBoom

We’re off again to Vieques, Puerto Rico. So, I thought it might be fun to revisit our last trip there in December 2011.

It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Vegas and Sharks

Well, hello there, good lookin’.

I’m back from the non-stop holidaying extravaganza! As, I suppose, we all are, regrettably. Oh well. #TheStruggleIsReal

My main man-panion XFE took some time off during the holidays so we ate many, many great, decadent, meaty things, and drank many a delicious wine and cocktail (mostly made with gins-of-the-world, a current XFE obsession), and just generally loafed around competing with the cat on who could be more sloth-like.

You know who else loafs (loaves?) around? Sharks! Those guys are totally lazy.

Employee of the month.
Sharks may be lazy, but starfish are apparently hard workers.

You see, I spent an inordinate amount of 2012 deathly afraid of sharks. I thought they were these ferocious, teeth-grinding, people-killing machines. But through scuba diving the last couple of years, I’ve actually discovered that they’re kinda wimpy, and not really all that scary. (Ssshhh. Don’t tell them I said that?)

Just to confirm this suspicion, we went diving in the shark tank at Mandalay Bay over Christmas.

shark marketing

Because….Christmas, y’all. In Vegas. So….of course.

We had been on an aquarium dive before. In October, we went up to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and did the Atlantic Coral Reef tank dive there. It was….meh. We had to arrange and pick up our own gear (wetsuits, masks, booties, flippers), we did not actually get to see any of the aquarium (entry tickets had to be purchased separately for around $35 per adult), and the tank, while certainly nice, was a bit small. Plus, there was only one or two flesh-tearing aquatic creatures about, so it lacked a bit of pizzazz. (Actually, I don’t remember seeing any sharks, but the National Aquarium website says there are some, so I guess there were.)

But Mandalay Bay, my sweeties, is in Las Vegas and they bring a whole showmanship to their tank dives.

First, they take you and up to four guests on a tour of the Shark Reef Aquarium, which features over 2,000 animals. Our guide, Janna, showed us around the 14 exhibits, including jelly fish, piranhas, and a Komodo dragon. And of course, the shark tank, formally known as the Shipwreck Exhibit. The 1.3 million gallon tank has around 30 sharks, including sandtiger sharks, a couple of types of reef sharks, zebra sharks, and a Galapagos shark. The tank also has stingrays, sea turtles, a moray eel, and some crazy-looking sawfish.

Then they give you all the backstage tour, including and explanation of the filtration system and a stroll along the feeding platform that runs all above the shark tank. It’s very James Bond-ish.

That's Janna, our handler on the left. That's a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.
That’s Janna, our handler on the left. That’s a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.

Then Janna whisked away our loved ones (in our case, XFE’s parents) to go back inside the main shark exhibit while you (the divers) get geared up in the locker rooms. And by geared up, I mean, wedge into the wetsuit and booties they provided and then shimmy into a 14-pound suit of chain mail. Yes. Chain mail. Because they want you to think there’s an element of danger here. Pretty crafty.

Once we were suitable geared up, the incredibly patient and kind team helped us wade into the small holding pool near the exhibit and we did a buoyancy check to make sure everything was working. We also had these ear pieces that were supposed to help us hear our diving guide but really just sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. They did help grab our attention when she (I think her name was April?) was trying to point out something to us.

Meanwhile, they have a videographer recording the whole thing: the divers gearing up (luckily, they don’t include audio so you don’t hear our grunts and cussing), getting in the water, and the view of us from inside the exhibit. In addition, the dive guide had a Go-Pro which she used to record us in the water.

(And I WOULD have posted clips from the final video except WordPress wants me to upgrade my blog plan to $100 a year in order to do that, to which I must say, “hellz no.” Sorry, kids. No MP4 videos on the scrub version of WordPress.)

And, as you can see by the bits of video I’ve posted, the sharks do not give a shit. They couldn’t have been less interested in us. I feel fairly certain there was a greater chance of one of us divers getting some sort of uncontrollable sushi craving all of a sudden and biting one of them than any of us even getting a tiny head nudge from any of the 30 sharks in that tank.

Here’s how the imaginary shark discussion goes in my mind:

Zebra Shark: “Ugh, these guys again.”

Sandtiger Shark: “I know, right?”

Zebra Shark: “I don’t know why they come down here and bother us if they’re not going to even bring us some tasty chum, like a fisherman’s hand or a small child or something. They’re really just wasting our time.”

Galapagos Shark: “And did you see that chick with the googly eyes? What’s her problem? Did you see how she was looking at me, all terrified and whatnot? As if. I can totally tell by that wetsuit that that girl has been eating way to much cheese and everybody knows I’m lactose intolerant.”

White-Tip Reef Shark: “Yeah, and did you see that one dude go right up to Larry’s face when he was trying to sleep? All he wants to do is take a little nap after swimming around in endless circles and what does that moron do? Swim right up and insist on getting his picture taken with him. Geeze.”

Sandtiger Shark: “Alright, I’m out of here. I’m going to go hide out at the top of this ship bow thing until they’re gone. By my limited edition shark Swatch watch, they’ll probably be in here about another 40 minutes, which gives me just enough time to watch an episode of Shark Tank OnDemand. Get it? See what I did there? Shark Tank? That’s comedy gold.”

End scene. 

Cheesepuff in a wetsuit
Cheesepuff in a wetsuit

All told, we were in the shark exhibit for around 45 minutes. It was pretty great. Unlike the National Aquarium where we were allowed to swim around on our own in pairs, we had to stick with our dive guide, but that was no big deal. We got to hunt in the sand for sharks’ teeth, get up close to a sleeping (resting?) reef shark, dodge sea turtles, and wave to the kids inside the exhibit.

When we got out, we unloaded our gear, hit the showers, and met our guests out by the aquarium store.

shark chompers

Even though I didn’t exactly test my mettle or stare down danger, I can’t say enough great things about the fine folks at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. It was first-class attentiveness from start to finish. The very thoughtful aquarium staff even had snacks and water set out for you in the locker rooms, which was a nice touch. They also gave us little glass vials of the shark teeth we’d collected (or, in my case, coral because I apparently cannot tell the difference underwater), and certificates to commemorate the day. And, about a week later, an awesome 15 minute video, which includes a very soothing-spa-music-soundtrack.

Maybe that’s why the sharks are so docile. Nonstop soothing spa music.

Scuba Diving Can Absolutely Kill You: Bali Edition

Our vacation to Bali wasn’t all delicious food and kite flying. I also cheated death.

Fine. That might be a bit dramatic. But it sure felt like I could have easily died while scuba diving in Bali.

Most dangerous scuba diving locations - NOT Bali.
Surprisingly, Bali is NOT listed here. Incomplete list, in my opinion.

Here are four signs that scuba diving in Bali might not be for you.

1) Your PayPal account gets hacked.

We went with Bali Diving in Sanur. They picked you up, took you to the dive shop for the paperwork, out on the boat, and then back to your hotel. They also allowed you to pay the deposit via PayPal. We paid the deposit for our three-dive trip, and it appeared to all work out fine. Then, a few days after we got home, I got a message from PayPal warning me that there had been unusual activity on my PayPal account. Apparently, someone with an Indonesian name and address had added themselves onto my account. I quickly changed my password and went in and deleted the extra name/address.

2) Your dive instructor doesn’t speak English.

Continue reading Scuba Diving Can Absolutely Kill You: Bali Edition

Sunburns, Manta Rays and Multiple Injuries: Things I Learned in Costa Rica

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m back from Costa Rica and sorta tan! And by tan, I really mean more of a vanilla color. Even this shade shift takes a lot of dedication, involving hours by the pool, high-level sunscreen, and multiple magazines.

This is basically the only time I should be allowed out in the sun. At sunset.

I usually burn within 30 minutes of the first day of vacation. Almost always on just one half of my body. This trip it was my back and the back of my legs, which made my massage at the spa more of a delicate exercise in aloe gel application.

After a week (usually by the time I go home), the angry reds subside, and I finally turn a slightly less pasty version of myself. I never actually attain bronze goddess status.

This crab (well, crab remains) was trying to cross the road at the resort. CRUNCH. I think he was coming back from the beach and heading to the buffet. Crab cake, anyone?

So, since I never seem to learn my lesson on sunbathing (Can’t do it. Don’t even try. Eschew the sun, Poe.), here’s a list of other things confirmed by my recent trip.

1)  There’s never going to be “too much” reading material. I bought $45 in magazines (plus a book and another magazine at the airport on our way out) and still ran out of reading material by the time I boarded our second flight home. (For the curious, I took a UK edition of Hello, Life & Style, OK, US Weekly, Fitness, Vanity Fair, InStyle, and Real Simple. I didn’t pick up InTouch because that just seemed like overkill. I did, however, devour the aforementioned Rules of Civility, a very good book that takes place in 1930s New York high society.)

SIDE RANT: Can people please stop reading 50 Shades of Hot and Bothered in public? I’m actually really skeeved out to think that people are getting all horny while reading by the pool or even worse, on the metro. Ya’ll know it’s considered “erotica,” aka mommy porn, right? And we’re all familiar with that fact? So we know what’s up. Keep it in your bedside drawers, please.

2) All scuba places must be run by expats from somewhere. Our fine dive instructors/animal rescue fanatics at Costa Rica Diving were from Germany. Of course. Because when I think of diving, I think Germany.

Take me to the manta rays, German man.

3) The van to transport you from the dive shop must be old, decrepit and somewhat smelly. When we dove in Puerto Rico, Arnaud’s van didn’t use a key – it used a long screw driver. In Costa Rica, Harald’s van had one very hardworking and totally ineffective tree-shaped air freshener.

4)  Every dive following a manta ray sighting seems singularly unimpressive. Manta rays are impossibly cool. I was gobsmacked. We saw one on our second scuba dive on the first day. It was huge and graceful and just….majestic (like in this video). Everything after that (schools and schools of beautiful tropical fish, a sea turtle resting on the ocean floor, a spotted ray), was just kind of shrug worthy.

5) Soccer tournaments will put me right to sleep. We’ve discovered this in our own private research at home. This theory was reinforced during our World Cup-coinciding stay at an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic. This time, the Eurocup final between Italy and Spain occurred during our trip. My soccer-loving-companion-for-eternity XFE was smart enough to suggest we watch it in a nice, cool public place with drinks and snacks and another couple who I no doubt infuriated with my incessant talking and cheering on of Spain (they were cheering for Italy).

6) Fishing will also put me to sleep. Listen, there’s a lot of downtime during fishing. It should actually be called “waiting hours for 15 minutes of excitement.” The rocking of the boat did me in. I slept much of the 8-hour trip, you know, between bouts of excitement, which included catching 4 mahi-mahi, 2 small tuna, and one very large (45 pound) rooster fish.

XFE calls this the action shot. (And yes, I wore that purple shirt and navy hat for every off-resort excursion.)
My mighty tuna. His teeth were very sharp looking and dangerous. Do not be fooled by his modest stature.

7)  I cannot for the life of me avoid self-injury. Every single entry/exit on any boat whatsoever was marked with wobbles and nerves. Even small inflatable boats that are brought right up to the beach to fetch you and take you to a larger boat (TWICE the death opportunity). Boats are so lame (except for napping purposes).

On my way back onto the dive boat, I took a non-water dive on the slippery deck in full diving gear and tanks. I banged my knee up pretty bad and caught, my ankle on a sharp metal lip. I had to bite my lip to not cry.

I also hit myself in the head with our glass patio door at one point (I was distracted by the fireworks), resulting in a red knot above my right eyebrow. Doors are so lame (except for room service purposes). And, I pretty much fell off the sidewalk every time we walked from one place to another because I was afraid of getting hit by a golf cart if I walked in the middle of the road. Sidewalks are also lame (except while riding on a golf cart and squishing crabs).

And Then it was Time to Scuba

Despite my best efforts, we boarded a ship in Cairns and sped out to the Great Barrier Reef, to fling ourselves down into shark-infested waters and look at fishes.

And guess what? It was awesome, amazing, breath-taking (literally), awe-inspiring and exciting.

We boarded the SeaQuest on Wednesday morning.

It’s a big catamaran type ship that has a ton of people out for just a single day of diving, so right after the second dive, it turns into quite a party. It’s pretty manic overall, filled with hungover college students with varying degrees of experience. The crew, including dive director Katie, was amazing amidst the chaos.

After the second dive and lunch, a few of us transferred over to the OceanQuest, a larger ship, sporting some very luxurious accomodations.

Actually, as much as I make fun of it, you can believe I CRASHED out every night. And it suited me just fine.

Aboard the OceanQuest, we had 4-5 dives a day, including a morning dive at 6:30 am (dive briefing at 6 am) and a night-time dive (sharks included) at 7 pm. It added up to 11 dives over 3 days, which at the time sounded like a lot, but was manageable.

I did one night-time dive, but it was so dark, it felt like being in a cave. Since I’m claustrophobic and not interested in cave diving (which was also an option on our trip), one night-time dive was enough for me. I’m glad I tried it (with our awesome, yet incredibly young looking guide Frasier, which made me very nervous,) but I won’t be doing it again.

Sharks, in a frenzy off the back of our boat RIGHT before our nighttime dive, clamoring for Poe.

Most of our dives took place in the morning, when the light was very good and the fish were active. We usually started at around 18 meters (60 feet) and worked our way backwards, getting more shallow throughout the day.A lot of our dives were off Norman Reef, but we also went to Saxon Reef.

We generally went with guides, but also did a couple of very nice (and slighltly more shallow) solo buddy dives. We saw tons of everything, including loads of clown fish (such as the spiny cheek clown fish – only in the GBR, according to our guide Kaz), a few stingrays, some yellow devilfish (which swim upside down — also only in the GBR, according to Kaz).

We got very cuddly with a Humpheaded Maori Wrasse named Wally – seriously, he practically came home with us — and some friendly angel fish. We got less close to many, many reef sharks, which weren’t quite as scary as I’d built them up to be.

Jo, the exceptionally excellent dive director on board the OceanQuest, set us up with a camera the second and third day.She was so helpful and cheerful in every single situation, as was almost everyone aboard the OceanQuest. The only outlier was the cranky chef, who despite putting out crowd-pleasing grub, was very shy/cranky. Take your pick.

We took pictures and like many before and after us, I am supremely disappointed and don’t feel they even begin to capture the majesty we saw underwater. What the hell? Why can’t we get some better underwater cameras out there?

But, here you go, nevertheless. A few meager and inadequate glimpses into the unbelievable and undescribable Great Barrier Reef.

Giant clam, anyone? I prefer oysters.

 

My Birthday Down Under

NOTE: I’m heading to the wine country of Barossa for a few days and may not have internet access, so I’m doing a very quick and sloppy post from the airport in Adelaide. My apologies. Bear with me, I’ll post when I can!

We arrived in Cairns on my 40th birthday to enjoy a day in this beachside Queensland town before boarding our liveaboard for three days of diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns is a really cute town, very navigable, and with a very vibrant young vibe. A total beach-bums paradise.

Our dive shop and boat operators, Deep Sea Divers' Den in Cairns. They were awesome.

As a testament to its youthfulness, it has lots of hostels and backpackers hotels, like the infamous Gilligan’s. This backpacker’s compound includes an $18 a night hostel, a travel agency to book different excursions, onsite laundry ($2 a load, according to a sign), a hopping pool area and a large bar and disco that seemed to be the happening spot.

Even our GBR tour operators were planning on going there the night we were returning to Cairns. Unfortunately, we’re too old to attend (well, one of us is too old) and we had to pick up our rental car, so we never made it to Gilligan’s. Wah-wah-wah.

Cairns was also the home to the Pole Idol pole dancing contest at one of their local bars, some Irish pub that looked EXACTLY like a Fado’s. I urged XFE to enter the contest, but he demurred.

We stayed at the Hilton Cairns, which was kinda old on the outside, but the rooms and the lobby had been recently renovated and were quite nice. Our room overlooked an area where some construction was going on to extend the pier, but it wasn’t disruptive or noisy. Then again, we were only there one night.

Speaking of the pier, there were a lot of great bars and restaurants all along the waterfront, including one where they deliver ice through a series of those air tubes like the ones used by banks back in the day.

We were in Cairns during the “wet season,” when there are a lot fewer tourists and visitors around, although there were a lot of Japanese tourists in town. I suppose for them, Queensland is basically like their Caribbean. Which also explains why there were a lot of high-end shops like Louis Vuitton.

We did the quintessential thing and went shopping for opals. Normally I think opals are really fussy and old fashioned, but we found a necklace with a really nice modern setting. Unfortunately, because we bought it duty free, I can’t wear it (or even open it) until we get to Bangkok and clear customs.

XFE had arranged a birthday dinner at Ochre, a place in Cairns specializing in “modern Australian cuisine.” We skipped the more adventurous “Taste of Australia” four course menu (kangaroo, crocodile, wallaby) and had the phenomenal six-course tasting menu with wine pairings instead.

It was all amazing, but the highlight might have been the crispy salt and pepper quail with watermelon rind and wild lime pickle. Divine.

They ended the meal with a wonderful crème brulee made with quandong (I have no idea what that is) and a special plate wishing me a happy birthday. Which it really, really was.

Wanted: New President for Island Paradise

Seems like the Maldives is looking for a new ruler and I’d like to go ahead and throw my hat into the ring.

Now, let me get out a map and figure out exactly where the Maldives are. Ah yes, it’s apparently somewhere in the Indian Ocean, which makes sense since the now-former president Nasheed had requested some help from India in foiling the recent coup. Unfortunately, India wasn’t really in a helping mood this week.

Here’s what I don’t know about the Maldives:

  • Where exactly they are located (but I’ve since solved that issue and now have a pretty good grip on that)
  • What kind of government they have (hadn’t given it much thought before, but if I had had to guess before today, I would have said they were led by a chieftan. Because I assume all island nations are identical to those on Gilligan’s Island, apparently.)
  • What language the Maldivians speak. (apparently it’s Dhivehis. I have no idea what that is, but it looks crazy hard).
  • What currency they use. (It’s the ever popular Maldivian Rufiyaa – MVR. Not, as I kinda thought might be the case, coconuts and shells. I only kinda thought that. I wasn’t 100%. No, my second guess was not the Rufiyaa. Wait, is that any relation to raffia, because raffia is waaay useful. You can make summer totes and sandals and even furniture out of that stuff.)
These look very presidential.

Alright, alright, it’s abundantly clear that I know absolutely nothing about the Maldives. However, I do not think that this should keep me out of the running to be the Next Her Tremendousness (first act when I am president: change title to Her Tremendousness, per micronation Seborga).

Here are the things I do know about the Maldives (all thanks to Wikipedia – with the exception of the first fact, which I already knew, thankyouverymuch).

  • It’s a hot honeymoon destination. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes honeymooned there.
  • The temperature ranges from 75 degrees to 91 degrees throughout the year. Hello! That’s ideal! I love the heat. Love, love, love it.
  • Tuna fisheries are one of their main commercial resources (after tourism, obviously). I like tuna. I would make a great spokesperson for the Maldivian Tuna Industry.
  • The other essential product of the Maldives is coir, the fibre of the dried coconut husk– my second favorite fabric for making smart summer totes and sandals.

But let’s get down to brass tacks here: Obviously the island life is quite compatible for me, but what would I bring to the coir-mat-lined table, you ask? Well….

According to the Reuter’s article:

“Nasheed drew opposition fire for his arrest of a judge he accused of being in the pocket of his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years. Protests at the arrest set off a constitutional crisis that had Nasheed defending himself against accusations of acting like a dictator.”

Listen, I pledge right now not to just go around arresting judges. Second, I promise to let them wear other robes rather than just those plain boring black ones. Thirdly, I plan to hire Steven Seagal, Lawman, to come over and sniff out the truth of whether the Maldivian justice system is corrupt. Then he can deal with it. The real key to ruling an island nation is delegation, I think.

Reuter’s goes on to say:

“Most tourists are whisked straight to their island hideaway by seaplane or speedboat, where they are free to drink alcohol and get luxurious spa treatments, insulated from the everyday Maldives, a fully Islamic state where alcohol is outlawed and skimpy beachwear frowned upon.”

Hmmm, don’t know if I’m really down with the whole “Islamic state where alcohol is outlawed,” but I guess I can get my wine happy hour on over at one of the resorts. I fully approve of frowning on skimpy beachwear though. I’m looking (and frowning) at you, Brandi from the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Totally natural pose. That's how everybody stands when they're at the beach.

Which reminds me, my third order of business (after changing my title to Her Tremendousness and hiring Steven Seagal to iron out our justice system) is to bring a reality TV show to the Maldives. Those Housewives ladies are always going on exotic vacations to Africa and Costa Rica and such, so let’s get some of that going in the Maldives. Raise our profile a bit. Sell some coir and tuna.

Also from the Reuter’s article:

“Nasheed was famous for his pleas for help to stop the sea engulfing his nation and in 2009 even held a cabinet meeting underwater, ministers all wearing scuba gear, to publicise the problem.”

Hey! I know how to scuba dive! I’ve just learned! And while I’m very much a nervous novice, I am fully PADI certified, so I am totally prepared to run a cabinet meeting underwater. As long as there are no sharks and no jelly fish.

Dang. The Maldives is apparently home to many whale sharks. Which, according to this lying blog are “very docile and friendly creatures, posing no threat to scuba divers.”

Whatever. I hereby withdraw my application. Thanks for the consideration. Good luck with that whole coup thing.

Everybody’s a Comedian When They Get Bit By a Shark

***We interrupt our regular Istanbul vacation recap posts to have yet another panic attack over an upcoming vacation that I’m certain will result in my death, or at the very least, a maiming.***

I knew something was up.

While perusing the search terms that had brought people to the Poe Log yesterday, I noticed something very, very odd – Jlo was not the top search term. Or even the second. No, the top 5 or 6 search terms were all variations of the term “Australian shark attacks.”

Turns out, Australian Poe-eating sharks are at it again, preparing for my upcoming visit to their fine sandy shores. According to the HuffingtonPost:

“An Australian man is recovering after becoming the country’s third shark attack victim this month.”

Continue reading Everybody’s a Comedian When They Get Bit By a Shark

Dive Instructor Arnaud: The Most Interesting Man in the World

At approximately six feet tall, with his sunbleached hair pulled back into a ponytail, our dive instructor Arnaud looks like a pirate or Viking. Not a French sommelier who lived in New York for 22 years working at the city’s finest restaurants.

With all apologies to Dos Equis and Jonathan Goldsmith: Arnaud of Black Beard Sports in Vieques, Puerto Rico is actually the Most Interesting Man in the World.

"Screw you, Arnaud. I demand a duel. To the death. Or to the honor. Whatever."

We didn’t go to Vieques with the intention of meeting the Most Interesting Man in the World. But over the course of four days, XFE and I were continuously amazed and delighted by our gentle diving giant. With each new modestly offered detail of Arnaud’s incredible life story, we would look at each other and mouth “the Most Interesting Man in the World.”

Here are a few reasons our dive instructor Arnaud is the Most Interesting Man in the World:

1) As I mentioned, Arnaud was in New York for 22 years, working in or managing places like Balthazar, Orsay and La Goulue. Subsequently, he knows EVERYONE in the restaurant business, including Thomas Keller. When we told him of our difficulty in getting a reservation at French Laundry in Napa a couple of years ago, Arnaud just offers up, all casually, “I know Thomas. I can get you a reservation. Just let me know.”

2) Arnaud was a minority owner of a large, well-financed restaurant that shut down after 9-11. The Wall Street backers bailed after September 11, leaving Arnaud without a job and broke. A few months later, he struck a deal with a real estate friend of his who had a tiny, vacant property (zoned for mixed use, not a restaurant) in what was then, the fairly dodgy neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn. Arnaud maxed out all his credit cards to build his ideal restaurant, called in favors from suppliers, carpenters, plumbers and anyone else he knew with a skill, and a year later, opened up his own restaurant, 360. He sold it after seven successful years because he was burned out on the restaurant business. Now Red Hook is all trendy and cool. Probably because the Most Interesting Man in the World slept there.

3) Here’s a description of Arnaud, the restaurantuer, from one of his reviews:

“As we toasted to more dinners in Red Hook, Arnaud was working the room, welcoming guests, pouring wine, chatting up locals families sitting at the sidewalk tables with their new babies. As I watched him stroll from table to table, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Gerard Depardieu. (If a movie ever gets made, Depardieu must play Arnaud.) Like Depardieu, Arnaud is sweet and sort of big and burly, with long hair that he keeps tied back in a ponytail, and a rich gravely voice with a sexy French accent. He is quite the consummate French host—warm and welcoming and devilishly charming.

Dizam! Girlfriend was smitten! I guess being in the presence of the Most Interesting Man in the World will do that to a reviewer. (And, she needs to learn how to spell “gravelly.”)

4) Steve Wynn once offered Arnaud what he called an “insane amount of money” to open a restaurant in Vegas, but Arnaud didn’t want to live in Vegas. He sounded almost a bit regretful of that decision. But then he looked out at his “office” in Vieques and seems to have gotten over it.

5) Now onto the diving: Arnaud has been diving since he was 11 years old. You read that right. He had an uncle who was a search and rescue diver (we’re talking jumping from helicopters in full dive gear) and he used to take him diving, all clandestine-like.  He finally got his diver certification at around 16, which is still too young, so he lied about his age.

6) His most recent personal diving trip? Egypt. Because that’s a stable and safe place to dive. (Actually, he says the Sinai is quite nice and removed from the turmoil. I’m just going to take his word on that one.)

7) Arnaud, like everyone in Vieques, has about three jobs. One of his other jobs is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He does, among other things, turtle surveys (he knows an amazing amount of info on turtles), and lionfish eradication.

8. Oh, and EVERYONE in Vieques knows and loves Arnaud. Just mentioning his name got you instant cred. And he hooked us up with some of the best food in Vieques. Every place he recommended was amazing and we ate like kings. And everywhere we mentioned him, folks would be like, “Oh Arnaud? He’s a major foodie. Did you know he’s like the best sommelier?” And we’d be like, “yeah, we know. We’ve heard.”

9) He moved his entire wine cellar to Vieques from New York. Like, 3,000 bottles. That’s insane.

10) Arnaud was wearing a Sea Shepherd’s shirt one day, which I didn’t even notice, but XFE did. While we were standing near the dive boat on our last day, I mentioned that Zodiacs (which is what the dive boat was) were used by the Sea Shepherd’s, those crazy environmentalists in Antarctica. Cool as a cucumber, Arnaud is like, “yeah, I’ve worked with those guys.” Totally incredulous, I’m like, “The hell you say. Where?”  Arnaud: “On their Mediterranean campaign stopping bluefin tuna poachers. Wish I could join them down in Antarctica sometime,” and then he got called into the dive shop. My jaw? On the ground. My head? Exploding. SO MANY QUESTIONS.

11) And finally, Arnaud has a reef named after him. Honestly, I don’t know if anything gets more pimp than that. And he didn’t just pick a spot and name it after himself. Oh no. Not our Arnaud. A local fisherman named it Arnaud’s Reef. As he humbly said, “When someone offers to name a reef after you, you don’t say no.” Oh, and by the way, that reef is straight up, tha shit. Some of the best diving and most awesome fish we saw during the four days. Including a nurse shark that XFE and Arnaud saw as we were getting back in the boat after the final dive. It was as if the shark was all, “hey Arnaud, what’s up. Saw you hanging around, thought I’d say hi.”

Not our video (obviously. Seriously, who the hell can dive and film??) but a taste of Arnaud’s Reef.

The Most Interesting Man in the World was the same guy who patiently went over the same beginner diving stuff with us day after day (sample dialogue, “Guys, you’ve got to learn to maintain your buoyancy. Check where you are in the water column and then slowly adjust” – yeah, I know, riveting right?).

This was the same guy who carried all our crap, made sure we drank enough water and wore sunscreen, the same man who rinsed our dive suits and cleaned our equipment every day, and filled out our little dive logs.

Yes, the man who got excited showing us different types of sea worms (seriously, he was waaay enthusiastic about this field of garden worms that poked up out of the ocean bottom), has lived and done some of the most amazing things. And that’s why Arnaud IS the Most Interesting Man in the World.

Stay Thirsty, Arnaud.