Monthly Archives: December 2013

Day 13 – Playa Replay

December 30, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

The guys wanted to try surfing on a different beach this morning so we hopped a ride on their boat and ended up at Playa Hermosa, the beach Jeff and I visited last week that didn’t make that much of an impression on me. The boat ride was fun, just a tiny motorboat packed full of people, surfboards and a cooler of beer. We shoved off from beach and got the guys to push us out before they climbed in.

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While the guys surfed and us girls wandered the beach, Gonzo our guide went fishing for dinner. On our first night he caught a tuna but had been less lucky since. On our way back from Hermosa we decided to see if we could catch any dinner. They don’t fish with rods here, the have a wooden board wrapped in fishing line and a hook. No bait. No lure. You look for either the splashing of a school of fish or a flock of birds diving into the water and then you head over there as quick as you can and throw your line in. It took about an hour of fishing before one of the lines went taut, then the other and the guys started reeling them in.

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Two large tunas for dinner, caught right from the ocean in front of the house. Totally crazy and super tasty.

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Day 12 – Heaven and Hell

December 29, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

Sleeping alone can be a double edged sword but in this heat it’s sort of a blessing. The sun woke me up around 5:30am, normally a terrible hour but here it’s a little bit magic. The air isn’t hot yet, it’s mostly quiet and the sun is hiding behind the clouds. With a tea in hand the hammock is the perfect place to welcome the day.

The guys have been surfing for a couple days and are pretty sore so someone suggested getting a masseuse to come to the house in the afternoon. She set up in the yoga studio overlooking the beach and didn’t need any of that “relaxing music” they usually play in spas, we had the ocean itself provide it for us. I can say without doubt that it was the best massage I’ve ever gotten, I’m sure the atmosphere helped but the masseuse was thorough and gentle and all around awesome.

It struck me afterwards how different our first week in Nicaragua compares to our second week. In our first week we lived in town, next to locals and had to go and find all our meals. We made it a game to see how cheap we could eat and if we could find the best local restaurant in town. If we needed something we had to go find it and then deal with the language barrier on top. At the house we are pretty isolated and whatever you need is brought to you. There’s a driver so you don’t have to worry about taxis and he also cooks so you don’t have to worry about meals. It’s definitely luxurious and very different than what I’m used to.

We went into town for dinner tonight and decided to hit up some bars. So far my impression of SJDS was that it was a quiet port town, growing thanks to tourism, but mostly just surfers and locals. Tonight I saw a different side. Tonight I saw hundreds of drunk backpacker kids, stumbling through bars and throwing up on the beach. At almost 30 I’m too old for this shit and think it’s a damn shame that these kids are disrespecting the area and locals with their idiotic behaviour.

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Day 11 – I Decided to Stay

December 28, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

This morning we piled into the car and had breakfast in town. It was a special occasion, my husband’s last $2 breakfast and last day, in Nicaragua. Deciding to stay was not easy, a lot of individual factors worked together to make the decision make sense, but it wasn’t easy.

In front of everyone at a crowded breakfast table I started to cry when the reality hit that soon, too soon, I was going to have to say goodbye. It wasn’t that I was going to miss him, that’s obvious and goes without saying. It was the fact that I know how lucky I am because I know my husband is truly one of a kind, a rare breed that is in equal parts encouraging and supportive. I know not everyone would be so willing to let their spouse stay in a dream destination while they returned to reality, but my husband encouraged me to stay. He went so far as to guilt me into it saying, “You might not have an opportunity like this again. You’d be a fool to turn it down.” And that’s why I cried. Because I was touched by his selflessness. I am grateful for my husband, for his understanding, patience and unconditional love.

After leaving him for the airport shuttle and walking away I felt the tears well up again but pushed them down. I am here because he wanted me to be here. I am here because I decided to stay.

We did a quick grocery shop for the house and then returned for an afternoon of napping, writing and posting selfies to Facebook. In the evening we played a round of Cards Against Humanity, which I won. If you haven’t played the game you should. It’s dirty and competitive and goes best with alcohol, any kind will do.

I don’t know who but someone got the idea to head to the beach for a night swim. Flashlights out we made our way down the stone steps to the pitch black beach and started walking. It was quiet except for the surf and other than a couple lights on in the kitchen of our house on the hillside (and our flashlights) there wasn’t a single man made light source to be seen.

We bailed on night swimming, probably for the best, and instead switched off our flashlights and looked up. The sky, a black navy sea, was blanketed in stars. More stars than I’ve seen in a long time twinkled down at us and we were silent, taking it in and remembering this as the sky of our youth. There aren’t any stars in Toronto, they’ve had to compete with the light pollution for so long they’ve just given up, no match for all the building lights and street lights and billboard lights. Sometimes I forget that they are up there at all. Here they are clear and bright, strong in the night sky. Defiant.

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Day 10 – Good Morning Paradise

December 27, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

We woke up this morning in paradise. When we arrived at Casa Ola last night, after a very bumpy ride, it was pitch black and though we could hear the ocean we couldn’t see it. We were shown our room and left to fall asleep to the crashing waves that were so loud I could have sworn our room was right on the beach. In the morning light it’s easy to say that this place is magnificent. It’s hidden away from town, on a private beach and has been designed so most rooms have an open air feel and stunning views.

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We only have one full day here before our flight tomorrow but my friend is working hard to convince me to stay…and I think it’s working.

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After breakfast we explored the private beach, which is huge, and tried to catch crabs (not a euphemism) on the rocks.

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There’s a brand new yoga studio on site so we had an impromptu session overlooking the beach.

The house comes with a guide/driver/chef named Gonzalo, who is also an excellent fisherman. In a boat, right in front of the house he caught a huge tuna which he cooked for dinner and we all devoured. By the time we were ready for bed I had decided to stay until January 2 and had rebooked my flight. I was hoping Jeff could stay as well but he is all vacationed out and anxious to return home. Just for the record I think he’s crazy.

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Day 9 – A Dolphinless Day At Sea

December 26, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

To start with, I can get a little seasick. When we were in Costa Rica last year we took a sailing trip to see dolphins. I took so much Dramamine I basically slept through that magical moment when they appeared and have been kicking myself since. Determined to fulfill my dolphin wish this year I booked an afternoon boat tour with Nica Sail n Surf who pretty much all but guaranteed an afternoon filled with porpoise.

We, and 22 other people, picked up the boat from the San Juan dock and headed out. The boat itself was really nice, very clean and the crew made sure that nobody had an empty glass in their hand.

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I sat right in the front, eyes peeled, waiting to see a school of happy dolphins playfully chasing our boat.

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But I didn’t. After sailing for an hour or so we pulled into the bay of a private beach, Playa Blanca, and dropped anchor. Some chose to stay on the boat but most people grabbed a pool noodle and a snorkelling mask and hopped in. The water was pretty clear but there was little to be seen beneath the surface except a few interesting looking creatures.

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We swam to shore and sat in the shallow water, taking in the view briefly, before we were rocked sideways by the surf. You know the famous beach scene in From Here to Eternity? Pretty sure even they got saltwater up their nose.

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Hungry, we swam back to the boat where the crew had made fresh ceviche and salsa. We ate our fill and then settled in for the boat ride back. They had timed it so halfway back to San Juan we had a gorgeous view of the sunset.

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The trip had been fun, a nice way to spend the afternoon and get out of the city, but we hadn’t seen any dolphins so that’s a 2 point deduction. Pulling into San Juan del Sur after dark meant the shoreline was lit up and we had to meet up with friends for dinner and a change of accommodations. We checked out of Buena Onda this morning and will be staying at a private rental house for the next couple of nights. It’s a tough life.

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Days 7 and 8 – A Very Merry Nica Christmas

December 24 and 25, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Buena Onda Backpackers

Today started with a $2 breakfast, honestly everyday starts with a $2 breakfast of fresh fruit and a pancake with coffee. After sampling only three of the six breakfast places we’ve decided on our favourite, Comedor Angelita, the very first place we tried and happily, the owner knows us now. After breakfast we wandered the downtown core for a while, stuck on what to do on Christmas Eve. Thinking about it, back home we would probably be finishing up purchasing last minute gifts, wrapping them up and packing the car for the ride home. There would be discussions about where to spend the night, making a schedule for all the people we had to visit and choreographing meals so they wouldn’t overlap too much. Instead, for the second year in a row, we chose to remove ourselves from the holiday equation. Not because we don’t love Christmas or our families (we do!), but because we don’t like what this season has become. There’s just too much of it, from November 1st until Boxing Day, there’s constant pressure to buy the right gifts, attend all the parties, send all the Christmas cards and still enjoy yourself too. I know plenty of people who love this time of year and all the social engagements/expectations that come with it, but I am not one of them. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sitting on a beach Christmas Eve, any beach in the world, is something I recommend everyone do at least once in their life. Sure, it might piss off family and friends who want to see you, but with your toes in the sand and a remarkable feeling of calm that you can only get when you’ve unplugged for several consecutive days, you’ll begin to see things a bit differently. It is absolutely lovely to be away from the hustle and the bustle of the holiday season and we spent most of the afternoon realizing just how lucky we are.

In the evening we came across a parade of students with the requisite Joseph, pregnant Mary and angel, complete with lots of townfolk and a six piece band. There was singing and music, a couple frantic teachers running around, trying to get the boys to stop screwing around and the girls to sing louder. They even had a police escort for crossing the streets, though SJDS is a small town there aren’t a lot of stop signs. I’m not sure what happened after they made it inside the church, probably more singing and dancing with parents crowding each other for pictures.

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Just after midnight we were woken up with what sounded like gunshots, but was actually just fireworks, tons and tons, and tons and tons (!!!) of fireworks, going off randomly all over town. Hello baby Jesus! After ten minutes or so I think everyone ran out and it quieted down until 6am when the carols started from a loudspeaker. Familiar tunes but in Spanish (of course) played for hours, on loop, until some decent soul switched them off. Feliz Navidad, whether you wanted to wake up or not.

Another day was spent lounging around and consciously trying to stay out of the sun. I’ve finished two books so far, Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone and Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman. Both of them really great books, slightly biographical, about finding your passion and pursuing it wholeheartedly. An idea I can always get behind.

For dinner tonight we wanted to do something a bit more special than fish tacos, though by god those fish tacos are good. On our walk into and out of town every day we pass by a small restaurant called El Colibri or The Hummingbird. There’s something very special about this restaurant in the garden with its brightly painted walls and Hindu art that serves mostly Mediterranean cuisine. It’s always packed and so we thought we would give it a try.

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We made reservations, a smart move on our part as people were turned away at the door, but the waiter warned us that there would be a sizeable wait for our food, considering every table in the place was full. From the time we ordered to the time our food arrived was about 90 minutes. I ordered vegetable curry and Jeff ordered falafel with Greek salad. Maybe we were doomed having such high hopes but the curry was really salted and though the falafel looked like falafel, it definitely didnt taste like falafel. El Colibri gets major points for decor and ambiance but the food we waited so long for was disappointing. I’d probably give it another try though, maybe it was just too busy because of the holiday.

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Day 6 – Volcano Island!

December 23, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Buena Onda Backpackers

Upon hearing we were going to Nicaragua a friend of mine insisted we visit Ometepe, an island created by two volcanos (Conception and Maderas) and an excellent place to explore. By the time I started contacting hotels everyone was full because of the holiday season so instead we booked a one day tour. Even though it is an island and not very big, the roads can be a bit scary and a guide is recommended for such a short visit. Through TripAdvisor I found Javier who designed a highlights tour for us and met us when the ferry landed in Moyogalpa.

The ferry, a one hour journey, made comfortable if you found a seat in the shade and horrendous if you ended up on the roof in the sun, costs only 60 cordobas one way (about $2.40).

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Luckily we were in the shade and after meeting up with Javier we headed to Charco Verde Nature Reserve for a hike to start the day.

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The reserve is a protected area with a green lagoon (hence the name), lots of trails to wander and a beach. We were on the lookout for monkeys and scorpions, but only found an angry snake, army ants, a massive cockroach (la cucaracha) and some grasshoppers.

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We hiked to a lookout point for an awesome view of the green lagoon before heading back down and hopping in a car towards Altagracia.

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On the way we pulled over to see a bunch of Capuchin monkeys on the side of the road. They were pretty brave and had no problem approaching people offering food.

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The grounds of a church in Altagracia houses 5 pre-Colombian statues, as well as the shell of the first church built on Ometepe. The early inhabitants of the area had a god for everything; a god of the air, a god of the earth, a god of water and so on. So far over 150 statues have been found on Ometepe, each representing a different god or their servant. Some of the statues are in museums in Nicaragua and some have been sent to museums all over the world or bought up by private collections. It was really neat to see the intricate carvings, especially on the god of air, who wore an eagle mask.

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They are in the process of restoring the church to be a museum for the statues and other artifacts, but I think it looks pretty cool as is and hope they don’t remove too much of the charm, like the painted floor tiles.

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After a quick stop at Santo Domingo for lunch we made our way to Ojo de Agua, two fresh water pools filled with thermal spring water from an underground well. The pools are nestled in the trees and are the perfect place to relax.

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Even though it is the holiday season it was pretty quiet and we spent most of our time fooling around with the camera and proving we could never be models.

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Ojo de Agua has a restaurant and bar, changerooms and showers, as well as tons of chairs and tables so you could spend the whole day if you wanted. I would have loved to stay longer but we were on a tight schedule and Punta Jesus Maria, our last stop of the day, was calling our name.

Punta Jesus Maria is a peninsula of sand that extends into the water and can make it look like you are walking on water, like Jesus.

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It’s also a cool place to swim (if you ignore all the warning signs) and affords a great view of the larger volcano, Conception.

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In all, we were on Ometepe about 7 hours and saw everything we wanted to without feeling rushed. It would have been nice to spend the night but I was happy to say goodbye and ride the ferry back to the mainland.

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Day 5 – RIP Sunglasses

December 22, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Buena Onda Backpackers

Today was probably the most uneventful day in our entire trip. We woke up late, no thanks to the pigeons who come into our room every morning. Have I mentioned the pigeons yet? The roof of our room is open, great for ventilation, terrible at keeping out pigeons.

We got into town around 11am, but they were still serving breakfast. Major win in Jeff’s book.

Headed to the beach for the afternoon, downed a couple cervezas and eventually Jeff lost his sunglasses to the waves.

We’ve heard that everyone back home is dealing with a major ice storm and we just hope everyone is ok and staying safe and warm!

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Day 4 – Playing Survivor at Playa Hermosa

December 21, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Buena Onda Backpackers

There are a ton of beaches in the area, Playa Maderas, Playa Coco, Playa Yankee, Playa Hermanso, just to name a few, and all the surf shops in town run shuttles that will take you there and back for about $5. The beach that everyone told me we had to visit was Playa Hermosa, it was supposed to be the best of the best and there was no way I wouldn’t love it. And the verdict? It was ok.

The ride to Playa Hermosa costs $10 and includes the $3 admission fee, lockers and washrooms, a shaded area and one restaurant and bar. It’s about 30 minutes from town and can be a treacherous journey in the rainy season. There’s only one road in that can only be attempted by a 4×4 vehicle because of the steep embankments and river crossings. There’s a small hotel on site if you’re a real surf bum, but it’s pretty isolated and knowing myself I would get bored after a couple days. The shady area has been fitted with hammocks and tables with chairs if you want to spend the whole day. There’s a place to rent boards and get a surfing lesson, as well as a small spa offering massages.

The beach is huge and by walking the 15 minutes to one end it feels like you are completely on your own, which is why I guess it made such a great beach for Survivor Nicaragua in 2011.

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They still sell the Survivor Buffs in the restaurant and many locals remember when they were filming. I didn’t watch the series, but I found out that many beaches around SJDS were used that season, for different challenges and filming locations. Blue, from Rancho Chilamante, told us that the winner of that season came for a ride and recognized the beach that they ride on. I think the show boosted the popularity of the area a bit, but I’m amazed that it’s still relatively quiet compared to Costa Rica at this time last year.

Jeff opted for surfing lessons today ($23) while I opted for hammock time.

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The waves weren’t huge and he managed to get up a few times, but the lesson was cut short when the instructor was stung in the foot by a stingray, twice. Little did we know there were stingrays on this beach and their sting is particularly painful. We bought the poor guy a shot of rum and left him with his foot in hot water, which is supposed to help.

Heading to the restaurant for lunch I wasn’t sure what we would find. I figured that it would probably be overpriced, seeing as it’s the only place in the area, and I was right. We paid double for a fish burger, compared to yesterday in town and even beer was inflated. I guess I can’t fault them for seizing the opportunity but still.

After lunch we walked along the beach in the surf, keeping an eye open for stingrays and instead finding sand dollars (alive and dead) and gooey things inside shells…maybe hermit crabs? I have no idea but they were everywhere.

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The sun was blazing and we headed back to the hammocks to wait for our shuttle back into town. Playa Hermosa was a nice beach, very clean, the shade and the hammocks were awesome.

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Day 3 – Nica on Horseback and a Surprise Proposal

December 20, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Buena Onda Backpackers

There was a succession of heavy rain showers that kept us up most of the night. Our room has a metal roof that boomed with each downpour and just when you thought it was over and you’d start to fall back asleep, another rain cloud would open up and dump even more. When the roosters started we had already been awake for a bit so we decided to cut our losses and head into town for an early breakfast. We hit the same area as yesterday but decided on a different place for breakfast. Each day we’ll try a new place and pick our favourite at the end. It was Comedor Tona Dinarte today and though it was a bit more expensive than yesterday (by $2), we did get more fruit.

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After breakfast we went to meet one of the hands from Rancho Chilamate who would take us to the ranch and get us all suited up for a day of horseback riding.The ranch is about 20 minutes outside of town and is run by a Canadian expat, Blue. She promised a day of riding in style, finishing with a gallop on the beach and a shot of rum. We pulled into the ranch and up to a set of beautiful blue doors.

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The ranch is pretty new and was hand built by Blue’s husband and local crew. Inside the space is clean and airy with a driftwood Christmas tree and painted gourd ornaments.

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The decor is western themed with lovely personal touches throughout.

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My favourite part was a room dedicated to playing the part of cowboy with hats, boots and scarves in all sizes. They even had jeans and belts if you showed up a little unprepared.

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When we had suited up Blue matched each horse to their rider and we set off as a group of 8. I was paired up with Cappuchino, a new horse to the group with a saucy personality. Jeff was on an all black guy named Uncle Mort, an older horse that still loved to run. We made our way through a small village, down steep embankments and through streams. The horses mainly knew where to go but still enjoyed testing your resolve with sidetracks and splashes in the river.

Eventually we came to a large field with the ocean just in view between the hills. The field was covered in grass as high as the horses heads and they couldn’t resist stopping for a snack. Pushing them on we ended up on a small, totally empty beach with lots of room for the horses to stretch their legs.

Before it was time for a gallop it was time for a beer and a rest. One of the couples that had come with us were celebrating a birthday and we found out the guy was planning to propose right there on the beach. It was very sweet, she “found” a message in a bottle and when she looked up he was down on one knee! She said yes and as we drank our beer they popped a bottle of champagne.

Leaving the couple to bask in their newfound engageness, the rest of us saddled up and led our horses down to the water. With very little prodding they took off like shots, galloping through the surf and splashing water everywhere. It’s like they had been waiting for that moment all day and given the opportunity they ran like their lives depended on it. Then Cappuchino, the horse I had been riding all morning, changed course suddenly and veered to the right, off the beach and into the tree line. He caught me off guard and I slipped from the saddle a bit. Righting myself and choking up on the reins I tried to steer him back to the beach. We ended up spinning in a circle and he pulled hard into the trees again. I’ve only ridden a couple times before and was nowhere near experienced enough to deal with a horse like this so I pulled back on the reins and got him to stop for a moment so I had the chance to collect myself and figure out what to do. Slowly, I managed to point him to the beach and as I tried to assert my dwindling confidence, he started to listen. We made it halfway back to the beach before Cappuchino pulled again and took off towards the trees. Frustrated I pulled the reins again and he stopped. It was like a game of tug of war, except I knew that between me and a horse, the horse would definitely win.

I was about to give up for the day when one of the guides offered to switch horses. She recognized Cappuchino was giving me a hard time so I traded for Colorado, the biggest in the stable, but the most gentle and one that, “loved to run.” Eagerly I switched over and with a light hand Colorado trotted toward the ocean, lined himself up in the surf and waited. I gently dug my heels in and we were off. I had never galloped before but with an experienced horse he almost made it easy and effortless. I loved the thumping rhythm and the salt water spray that soaked us both. When we reached the end of the beach we turned back and did it again. In all we probably made 4 or 5 passes on the beach, each just as fast as the next. On our last run we were trotting along when I heard a couple horses galloping behind us, Colorado must have heard them too because he started to pick up speed. A horse came up on either side of us and for a brief moment we were galloping three across. It was an adrenaline pumping experience that lasted just long enough to really enjoy it.

Blue is a professional photographer and took pictures the whole time. I’m excited to see them in a couple weeks but I can only imagine the expressions on my face as we ran across that beach. Pure joy mixed with sheer terror.

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