by Danielle Ciminero
The day started out like any other that week. Wake up at 4am, brew cowboy coffee, watch a bit of surfing, walk the rocky path to the highway in the dark, wait patiently for a colorfully painted school bus to hurtle around the corner and then jump out in front of it waving our surfboards to make sure it stops to pick us up. Meanwhile, hoping the bus driver doesn't notice our blond hair and try to run us over.
It was El Salvador after all, and rumor had it that Americans were still a sore sight.
Thankfully the first bus stopped and we climbed aboard amidst a crowd of locals going who knows where at five in the morning. Judging by the baskets of fruit, vegetables and grain loaded on top of the bus I would guess the marketplace to trade their wares.
We sardined our bodies and boards with the others, grateful to be inside the bus instead of hanging out the open door like last time. The bus continued to hurtle around corners, up and down the graded mountain road, gobbling up new passengers and spitting out old ones, taking but a few coins as fare. With each passing moment, a new pair of eyes would strain to get a look at us. They'd hold their stare as long as they could, until we smiled. They'd smile back, turn around, but keep peeking at us to make sure we were still there. At first we felt like a pair of jolly green giants, but eventually we got used to it.
An hour later we hopped off the bus drenched in the sweat of a dozen strangers and sauntered down an unmarked road. We were told of a few secret spots and wanted to check them all out and pick one to set up camp for a few weeks. El Savador has a dozen known point breaks in a forty minute stretch, it was almost unbelievable that there could be any more. But adventuring to find a secret spot is sort of why we surf in the first place, the excitement of the unknown and the hope for the amazing.
Over the next eight hours it felt as though we were searching for a phantom treasure. Hiking up and down dirt roads, on an off buses filled to the brim with people, arriving at various beaches to find no waves, and sometimes not even finding the beach, just wandering around a small village with little children running out of their small homes to have a look at us or try to touch our hair.
Eventually we ended up surfing a chest high wave that was supposed to be a right point but was really just a racing closeout over rocks. Perhaps it needed more swell. Still, as the day wore on, our expectation of discovering an amazing secret spot dwindled. After getting wet we trundled back up the road to the freeway and waited in the searing sun for a another bus to come and whisk us away to the last spot on our list. Our last hope.
After what felt like an eternity in the fires of hell, a bus came around the corner, but instead of stopping for us, we had to jump out of the way as it zoomed past. The same thing happened with the next one. And the next. All of them were so full that half a dozen people were hanging out the doors and even a few heads poking out the windows. Who knew El Salvador had rush hour for buses? Finally one bus pulled to a stop. We could see people hanging out the door and when no one got off, I gave him a questioning look. He smiled and pointed to the roof. Upon it was a truckload of baskets, enormous bags of grain, and even a few pigs.
I just shook my head wearily, he shrugged his shoulders, and off he went. I saw a mango tumble off the roof as he rounded the corner and thought. That could've been me.
Meanwhile, we were roasting there on the side of the road- between the black top and lack of shade, it was comparable to hanging out in a frying pan.
Just then, a pick up truck slowed to a stop. The driver was a local, nicely dressed in slacks and a button up shirt. Alongside him was a friendly looking passenger who could have been his son.
"You want a ride? Hop in! " he said with enthusiasm.
Before I could think about the consequences of hitch hiking in El Salvador, we tossed our boards into the bed of the truck and climbed in.
The air conditioning felt like heaven.
"Where you headed?"
I told him.
" Ah, that's a beautiful beach!"
We exchanged small talk and it was a pleasant ride, until he took a right hand turn up the mountain, away from the highway, away from the beach, away from what little civilization there was on that stretch of coast.
What an idiot, I thought when I realized we had just jumped in the car of a complete stranger in El Salvador and now were being kidnapped. My family doesn't have any money for ransom…they're just going to torture and kill us for fun! I decided to feel out the situation before I panicked.
"Um, excuse me, sir, where are we going?" I asked.
"I am going to show you my land! It's beautiful. More beautiful than that beach. You can stay with me now. You're never going to want to leave." He said the last part the way they do in horror movies that leave almost certain you are about about to be murdered.
I'm not exactly quick on my feet and simply couldn't come up with a good excuse as to why we couldn't go with him.
"Oh, well, you see, we have this thing, we should really get to that beach. Maybe another day?" I asked hopefully.
"No , No . It's close don't worry."
Forty minutes of winding dirt road up into the mountains later I started freaking out. Should we just open the door, tuck, roll and run? I thought.
He was firing question after question and responding in spanish was taking most of my brains operating power. Finally, I put my hand on the door handle and was about to pull it when we ascended to the top and I was struck by a three hundred and sixty degree view of incredibly pristine land. By far the most stunning sight we'd experienced.
I was rendered temporarily breathless, inspired and relieved, like everything was going to be ok, he really was just showing us the sights. Until I saw the cabin. It could as easily have been featured as a low budget eco lodge as it could be featured in a horror film. At that moment, I couldn't tell which it would be.
He lead us straight to it, unlocked the door and stood proudly before it - he claimed the entire cabin and all the furniture inside were built by his family. It was actually pretty cute. A little dark and creepy, but cute.
Still, I was terrified to step inside, thinking he might shut the door and lock us in, but he gently pushed us through the threshold before I could break away. When he started touring around the cabin revering each piece of wood, each chair and table, with adoration and love, I realized that he really did just want to show us his home. He got so excited after the cabin tour that he dragged us all around the vast property, sharing his dreams of turning it into an eco lodge. Situated at the top of the mountain, with acres upon acres of towering trees and a small footpath connecting four cabins similar to his home, we could see its potential as an eco -lodge. Whew. Dodged a bullet there.
We were dragging our feet an hour later, still playing tourist. He skipped like a child to an area of enormous trees and stood back with his hands out wide and smiled up at them.
"These! These are balsamo trees. They are amazing!" He exclaimed. He wiped his finger along the bark to collect some sap, put it close to his nose, inhaled deeply and let out a big sigh. Then he offered his finger to us " Smell it smell it! "
I decided to take a chance and was delighted by a delicate scent of vanilla cinnamon and bark, so lovely I nearly licked it.
He explained that they collect the sap and it is used for a variety of medicinal purposes, as well as a fragrance for soaps and a flavoring for foods. Like a fountain of youth in tree form.
"We hold classes once a week for the local children. We want them to know the importance the trees. Did you know it takes almost twenty years for the sap to start producing?"
We all stared up at the towering trees. Powerful. Quiet. Potent.
"I love these trees. That is why I want to create an eco-lodge, to share them with the world! What do you think? Is a good idea?"
And there it was, the moment I realized that while I had been kidnapped, it was for a completely different reason than I could've imagined. With all of the information you can dig up on El Salvador, few of the facts you will find state that the most of the locals are amazingly generous, kind hearted, hardworking, good people. It is so easy to be distrustful, to shut ourselves off from the world when we are fed a continuous stream of negative news updates. So, here is my update: you might get kidnapped if you go to el sal, but it might just be the highlight of your trip.
"It is a wonderful idea, people are going to love it" we replied.
He smiled so bright, so genuine.
"Ok , time to get to your beach. But one last thing. " He took off toward the cabin and came trotting back a few minutes later. He held out his hand and in it were two vials. "It's the sap! Balsamo! for you!"
The ride back down the mountain felt like it took about five minutes. The views were breathtaking and without the fear of being murdered it was quite enjoyable.
We were on the freeway for another twenty minutes, then he took a sharp left and zig zagged all over the place for about fifteen more minutes until we came to the coast. Without him to drive us in, we would have never found the beach. It would have been at least an hour walking from the bus stop if we even knew which of the twelve turns to take, and we didn't. And the beach was incredible. The wave was amazing. After a full day of searching for phantom waves, the peeling right looked like the best wave either of us had ever seen. A surfers El Dorado. There were three locals sitting at the top of the point and a beginner grom in the shore break.
With less than two hours left before sunset, we bid our new friend goodbye and paddled out. We spent the rest of the evening in pure surfing bliss, not worrying about how we would find our way out of there once it got dark. Having spent most of the day in hot flustered disappointment and fear, we took the opportunity to just be in the moment. That is the point of surfing after all, to just go along for the ride.
...Since leaving his forecasting duties at NESurf.com?
Well for one, his efforts with the Rhode Island based environmental group Clean Ocean Access have earned him the 2014 Newport Daily News Community Service Award which he will be receiving on April 22nd at the Atlantic Beach Club, Middletown RI.
Always modest, here is what he had to say on the matter: "Although I’ll take some credit for my community service, it is the active volunteer effort of the community and the support of my family and friends which has allowed for great things to happen for Clean Ocean Access. I’d be delighted if you can make the event, all the details are in this link http://www.newportri.com/app/BanquetAwards.PDF If you can’t make it, don’t worry about it and do make sure to attend the COA volunteer appreciation cookout on June 19th at Kings Park Swim Area!"
On behalf of the NESurf community I'd like to offer a heartfelt congratulations for this recent recognition of his work with Clean Ocean Access and also take this opportunity to offer a big personal thank you for all the years of outstanding forecasts for NESurf.com.
Keep up the good work "mcglups"!
For the first time in over a decade, Narragansett surfers made a solid showing in the ESA South New England final standings for the season, when the 2013 Eastern Surfing Association released the figures this past week. Most of these top competitors are planning to tune up at the Newport Surfing Championships on April 19th at 2nd Beach, as they prepare for the biggest event of the year, the 2014 ESA East Coast Championships Northeast Surf-Offs. This year’s 3-day contest will take place in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, as the best surfers from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and the Great Lakes will surf off against each other for bragging rights.
Leading the local contingent was the father and son duo of Kai and Dylan Holtbakk of West Kingston. Because of their consistent surfing in the sometimes, difficult conditions of the contests, they finished at the top of the standings in five divisions. Dylan won both the Menehune (Boys and Girls Short board under 12 years of age) and the Menehune (Boys and Girls 14 years and under) Long board divisions. He also finished 3rd in the Open Short board divisions. Kai competed in the most competitive category, the Senior Men’s Division, and finished 3rd in both the Senior Men’s Short board and Masters Long board categories. He also captured a 2nd place in the tough Open Short board division.
Narragansett’s Braydon Bennett also had a strong season, finishing 2nd behind Dylan in the Menehunes, and 2nd in the Menehune (14 years and under) Body board category. Noah Gartner and Lily Gartner, both of Narragansett, also had great showings, with Noah taking 3rd overall in the Menehunes and Lily finishing 2nd in the Girls.
The Nota brothers of Jamestown placed in four divisions, with Andrew taking 2nd in the Junior Men and Junior Long board, and Matt finishing 2nd in both the Men and Men’s Long board categories.
Dave Giuseppone of Narragansett topped both the Mens and Men’s Longboard divisions, while Claudio Paolino of Wakefield won the Grandmasters crown.
Gavin Smith of Block Island has been a Northeast Regional finalist for several seasons, and finished the year with 2nd place showings in both the Boys and Menehune Long board divisions. His father, Jeff, ended the season in 2nd place in the Masters Long board category.
Other local winners included Charlestown’s Kevin Tanner, 1st place in the Masters Short board, Janice Causey of Narragansett, 2nd place in the Grand Legends, and Allen Santucci, 2nd place in the Men’s Long board. Narragansett’s Peter Pan finished first in the Legends, Legends Long board, Open SUP, and Open Body board categories.
The district will have a strong showing in the female ranks, as 7-Time East Coast Finals Ladies Champion, Ana Barend of Little Compton expects to compete again. Westerly’s Sarah Prince finished strong, with a 2nd place, overall in both the Ladies and Ladies Long board events. East Coast Championship finalist Kitty Pechet of Cambridge, Massachusetts won the Grand Legends for the 6th straight year, and also won the Ladies Long board division. Sara Procaccini of Carver, Massachusetts won the Women’ Long board and took a 2nd in the Ladies Short board final standings. East Coast Finals finalist Keating Artigian ended up in 3rd in the Women’s Long board, and is also expected to compete at the regional championships. In the Girls division, it was Maria Barend from Little Compton taking the title, over Gartner and Charlotte Robbin, also of Narragansett, finishing in the 3rd spot.
Other champions included Andrew Marsden of Hingham, Massachusetts who won both the Senior Men and Master Long board divisions, Joe Doherty of Goshen, Connecticut, who won the Boys, Corran Moore of Newport, Junior Men’s winner, and Liam O’Regan of Middletown, who topped the Junior Long board division. Clayton Ives of Newport took the Menehune Body board crown and Jose Galvez of Cranston won the Open division and finished 2nd in the Master Long board category.