Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Running Into the New Year

What better way to start the new year than running a marathon? Well, running wasn't exactly the first thing on my mind when I flew to Orlando on January 8th, one week before my 32nd birthday. This was my first trip back to the states since we moved to Curacao last July. I was definitely more excited to see "the gang" than I was to pound out 26.2 miles, especially since my training was minimal in the Caribbean heat. However, I was ready to take on the first challenge of 2009.

On Thursday night, we watched the Gators beat the Sooners for another national championship. Dad, Jess, Selena, Grace, Tessa and I were in the company of Sheri and Robin (both UF grads) at the local Ale House. They were fired up! On Friday, Christie, Kim and Stephanie joined the party at the pool and Casey stopped by on his way back from the big game in Miami. Who else popped in unannounced for a big surprise?

My friends Deanne and Bonnie!!! Friday night, we enjoyed dinner and mostly dessert at the Rainforest Cafe - party of 12! Casey had his hands full with Grace and Tessa vying for his attention. On Saturday morning, Sheri and Robin completed their first half-marathon. We enjoyed the race expo at the Wide World of Sports and more relaxation during the day. Saturday evening, we all met up with Marti's gang and Cherri for a wonderful dinner at the House of Blues and the carb-loading began. Our alarms were set for 3 a.m. on race morning. We got dressed and caught the shuttle to the starting line along with the other 25,000 runners. Somehow, in all the chaos I bumped into my friend Tammie and our running club became the "Sassy Six."

The Disney marathon has got to be one of the most exciting marathons. The course begins and ends at Epcot running through all of the parks. The entire cast is bright-eyed and in costume cheering you on. My favorite is Animal Kingdom where some of the animals are brought out to greet you. You can stop and take pictures at each mile marker sign or have your picture taken with your favorite Disney character. Your name is on your race # so the fans call you by name and encourage you on. A couple of stretches of highway are anything but boring when you are entertained by high school bands, cheerleaders, DJs, and others (who have to be on a caffeine high) dressed up, singing and dancing.
Hours later..........we finished with everyone still standing and in need of the trainers with the ice bags.......or maybe that was just me! We earned our big Mickey medals and limped on back to the hotel.

Sunday evening provided me with the comforts of home as my girls sat around the pool, catching up, reminiscing and playing SkipBo. Old friends reunited, new friendships formed, many laughs shared, pictures taken and memories made........and it was the first time in almost a year since I had put on jeans and a sweatshirt! Ah........the simple things in life!
Oh, and I did say that this would be my 5th and final marathon................then I returned to Curacao and learned that the island hosts a half-marathon and marathon here in December.
Any takers?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goodbye 2008, Hello 2009

I'm of the mindset that every year should be better than the last. Life should just keep getting better. So far, with only a few exceptions, it has held true in my life, and 2008 was certainly the best year of my life to date ... in fact, 2008 was so fantastic that I'm forced into the realization that topping it in 2009 leaves me with my work cut out for me. We'll take you on a tour of the end of the year that beats all other years, and give you a glimpse into the adventures that await in 2009.

Erin and I went fishing with our good friends, the van Griekens: Chris, Davis, and Matilda. I was feeling (and looking) like Old Man and the Sea, and a couple of promising tugs early in the afternoon left us itchin' for some action, but it wasn't until sundown that we managed to pull in this beauty ... say hello to our friend, Jack. (That's me, Davis, and Jack in the photo)

We wrapped up our first semester at the International School and then had a week to 'relax' before our visitors arrived. We spent one morning with our friends Dale and David (that's David with Dan in the photo) climbing up Mt. Christoffel.

A couple hours later, we were enjoying the view from the highest point on the island.

After one week of 'relaxing' our friend Christie arrived from Pensacola, and we spent the next few days showing off the island's most beautiful beaches. The three of us spent a lot of time snorkeling and soaking up the Caribbean sun.

When the girls weren't on the beach they were in the gym, which isn't so bad when you have this view from your elyptical.

After a couple of days spent hanging out with Christie we welcomed the Kinzer clan from California, and the first thing we did was take everyone to Spanish Water for some windsurfing lessons. Dad, Tim, and Christie all proved to be quick studies, and they were racing across the water in no time.

It didn't take long to wear out our guests ... after their first morning in Curacao they were already tired!

But the fun didn't stop there ... we left the windsurfing behind and headed for the Ostrich Farm. We enjoyed a nice lunch in their African-themed restaurant, and then headed out for a tour of the farm with our favorite guide Alexander.

We tried to talk mom into riding one of the ostriches, but this was as close as she was willing to get.

As the 24th came to a close we took the whole crew to our Fellowship on the beach for a Christmas Eve sunset service. The sun broke through the clouds as we sat and sang carols together. Just as we were leaving the sky opened up and it started pouring rain, but we were off to the old Fort Nassau for a delicious and scenic dinner ... then it was off to bed early so Santa could come.

After opening up our presents on Christmas morning we took everyone out for the real treat ... a day exploring the 'other' end of the island. Our first stop was Boca Ascension, and the Tortuga Trail, where you are pretty much guaranteed to spot sea turtles feeding in the shallow waters of the inlet.

And sure enough we spotted several, including one very large leatherback! It was our lucky day.

From the Tortuga Trail we made our way around the tip of the island to Playa Forti, the island's best cliff jumping locale. The whole family went out to the end as Tim, Christie, Dad, and I leaped off the 35 foot cliff into the turquoise waters below. Erin and Mom took the photos this time.

The local kids had never seen this approach before, and we had to explain that it was latest style in the U.S.A.
We all survived, and even had enough fun to come back later in the week so Dad and Tim could do it again!
We went back to the house to clean up for our Christmas dinner at Landhuis Daniel, a quiet and elegant European-Caribbean restaurant set on the patio of a ... wait a second ... who is that guy with his arm around my wife! Oh yeah, that was me sporting Erin's Christmas present, and she even made me put a picture of my baby-face on the blog for all to see ... I'm way too nice. But dinner was interesting, perhaps a little too 'interesting' for some of the family, but nonetheless a marvelous way to end our Caribbean Christmas Day!
(Christmas Menu for those interested: Duckmousse and Goose liver to start and then baked Rabbit for the main course ... yummy)

The day after Christmas (or the Second Christmas as the Dutch call it) was a day for the high seas. We all boarded The Bounty for a sailing and snorkeling adventure. While most of us took the opportunity to catch a few rays and admire the aquatic life, an unnamed member of our party took kindly to the open bar and their rum punch - which made for a very entertaining day at sea.
After our adventures on The Bounty we took the gang to one of our favorite local hangouts, Yo Yo Ala's, for a back porch dinner of chicken wings, french fries, and the coldest Polars (Venezuelan beer) on the island. It was a big success and perfect way to unwind and get our land legs back.

On Christie's last day in Curacao we had to show her, and the Kinzer family, the view from the top of Mt. Christoffel, so we set off early and made our way to the top.

We had to let Christie get cleaned up after the climb and then said our good-byes at the airport. It is always a blessing to have friends who will come so far to see you! When we got back to the house it was obvious that Tim was either exhausted, or adjusting to Caribbean life extremely well, and in either case the family managed to spend an afternoon relaxing after a tough morning climb.

For the rest of the trip it was a lot of quality time with the Kinzer family. Dad and Tim did spend a lot of time underwater, and both finished the vacation as PADI Open Water Certified Scuba Divers!

We had heard stories about New Years, and how enormous of a party it was here on Curacao, but nothing we heard could have prepared us for the sights and sounds as we brought in 2009. The Kinzer Boys stopped into one the roadside fireworks stands that's open this time of year, and stocked up on some fireworks to set off from atop our hill. Tim, the clear winner of Pyromaniac of the Family Award, couldn't contain his excitement over all of these explosives.

After lighting all of our fireworks while taking in the war-zone like drama unfolding around us we retired to our rooftop to watch as the several hour spectacle continued well into the night. It is hard to put into words, but there has to be few firework displays like it in the world. Non-stop for nearly 6 hours huge 4th of July style firework shows were taking place on every street on the island ... and we could see it all from our house on the hill. What an awesome salute to the year that I will always remember, even if I somehow manage to top it from here until the end. Goodbye, 2008 ...
And hello, 2009! This year will mark my first full year as a married man, and my first full year living outside of the U.S. and in Curacao. This year will hold our first anniversary, and the list of "firsts" won't stop there. Erin and I have trips planned to the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Suriname, Bonaire, Ecuador and the Galapagos, and that's just until July. I've got hopes to spend a week with NASA at Kennedy Space Center and if I'm really lucky 10 days in Ghana learning about the slave trade and its impact on West Africa. And then there's my 2009 resolution ... to be a mountain climber: I've been to the top of Mt. Christoffel 4 times in the last month and we'll be climbing the tallest mountain in the Caribbean (Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic) next month. If all things go well I'll be standing tall on top of Cotopaxi (Ecuador) at well over 19,000 feet this summer, and if the Big Guy sees fit I'll make an attempt at the summit of Aconcagua (Argentina), the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas, at the end of 2009.
If this all sounds ambitious remember that Erin plans on doing most of this alongside me, and the fact that only 2 weeks into the year and she's already run a marathon! My wife is pure inspiration, and sometimes I think my measely plans might be holding her back - but you can bet she'll be finishing triathalons by summer despite my lack of affinity for anything to do with, even if only partially, running. I'll be there to cheer her on regardless ... it's the least I can do since it must take monumental effort just to put up with my crazy ideas, but she does it with grace. 2009 better watch out, we have our sights set high.