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August 2009

After Dominica Comes Martinique


We woke up at the crack of 3:30 am so we could be making way by about 4.  Talk about sheer panic.  Reminded me of production.  All sorts of little things to do before plowing out into the early AM ocean.  First, stare at stars.  Oh, that's after a steaming cup of coffee.  Stars are real, real bright in the Carib - reach out and grab 'em bright.  And, it is quiet like a cemetery.  I loved that part of it all.  A bit of silence, finally.

The weather was perfect, and after yet another night of no sleep, I was stunned I had so much energy - just delicious with it.  It was wild, I've never been one to really nap - I wake up all scared and confused.  However, on the boat, I just passed right out at a moments notice - any spot.  And, would be wide awake 4 minutes later thinking I'd slept a whole night.  Bizarre.  Also learned to sleep on my back, which I NEVER do.  Again, wake up scared, like I'm in a coffin and being smothered.  

I took this trip to test myself - to see if I had what it takes to BE OUT OF SIGHT OF LAND.  That was the biggie for me.  What happens internally when there is no land anywhere within my field of vision?  It was straight up amazing.  No fear.  No sea sickness.  Nada.  All if did was make me get back to my own boat and pull a full freak out - realizing that all the dinero being dropped is all worth it - and then some...good to know.   Gotta say, though, when I laid eyes on Martinique, the joy came rushing in.  All we could talk about was a cafe au lait and some place civilized.  An omelette for me, please...

I gotta go figure these things out you see...or else, ya never know...







Pilates Retreat Back to Isla Mujeres 2010


So, some breaking news on the Pilates Retreat for 2010 - we've had to change up the location.  All cause airfares to Baja are insane in January - so BACK to Isla Mujeres we go!  It's a lovely island off the coast of  Mexico, where peeps haul around on moped and/or golf cart.  And, we're back at our favorite little hotel - Casa Ixchel...right on the beach.  Lots of food, snorkeling, pilates, volunteering and exploring dead in the middle of winter (Jan 19 - 24) - just when you need it most!

Check out all the details of the Pilates/Food/Volunteer Retreat here.

And Den Der Was Dominica


I arrived by plane to Dominica, but I left by sailboat.  Neat.  Very  neat.  I like that kind of travel - in and out and all a little on the sly (it feels).  I've wanted to hit Dominica forever - ever since I saw a cute cottage there a few years back that was for sale...and almost prompted me to sell all and move there.  Just based on the pictures alone.  So, this little island was a perfect starting point for me to venture out from via sailing vessel.  Another potential place to die in off the list, I say.

The wind is different in Dominica - cool/balmy wind, full of mystery.  And, the whole island looks just like all my fave places in Indo - which made me incredibly happy upon arrival.  Green, lush, overgrown with wildlife.  Of course my cabbie gave me a history of the whole island and we had to make a few pitstops on the way for him to grab some giant flowers for his wife (they just grow wild everywhere and he gets her some once a week from one of the hill villages) and drop a few of his work buddies off.  I swear, I could ride in cabs all day and really think my travel would be taken to a whole new localized level.

I met up with the good Captain Norman and his woman Alison at a small bar in Roseau...they were having beers with a young British lad name Tim.  That one was leaving the next morning and I could feel his sheer delight in being hours away from hopping off the boat (6 weeks is a long time, eh)?  We slammed a few, caught up on the plan and headed over to the boat, via skiff.  Massive 1-ton, fume-spitting dink for this couple.

Funny to think how people come together in the world.  You just meet up on the road somewhere and before you know it, you're discussing plans, ideas, projects, histories, dreams, fears.  It's like there are no barriers or walls - you can just be free and open and flow. 

Next day, I was off exploring, while they were provisioning and checking emails...let's just say there was a lot of hootin' and hollerin' going on since I was a single chick cruising alone.  But underneath the catcalls was a genuine want to connect.  A hiss, then a hearty laugh.  Jarring.  I'm flipping coins left and right to pay for my rice and peas and a drinker at the bar corrects my math, seems I'd overpaid.  Thx - very generous.  Kindness is in everyone, I think, you just gotta make a mistake in front of them and their desire to help comes out in spades.  Refreshing.  I buy an little perfume in the incense store, the owner calls me back in to give me some free incense "cause she likes my shirt and I'm a very nice person."  What goes around, comes right back at cha...







Would This Old San Juan Balcony Not Make You Happy?


Old San Juan is flush with elegant balconies such as this.  All bursting with flowers and life and growth.  Each one made me incredibly content - like if I had that balcony, I could really get some things done.  

This particular ledge was just around the corner from the super-cool Casablanca Hotel that my bud Julie told me about - real hard to leave that little gem.  I was way up on the 4th floor, but loved the view - spread eagle over all of the rooftops of the city.  Reminded me of when I did an apartment switch with a couple in Barcelona. They lived in a tiny pad in Barceloneta with the most killer balcony and I spent a month there just killin' time, eating fresh seafood and reading about the tsunami online. 

Casablanca is pretty cheap for OSJ and has the most peaceful vibe to it (not to mention amazing art work) its within walking distance of loads of cool little bars, restaurants and the water.  Best part is its proximity to Moreno's, a dive bar just around the corner.  He's opening a restaurant upstairs soon that's gonna sport cheap (yet sophisticated) Puerto Rican food...all with a view of that said balcony. 

One could lead a good life there.  And, guess I didn't know you don't need a passport to roll to Puerto Rico.  US Cash is king.  Shows you what kind of research I do before hitting the road.







Old San Juan and A Mess of Memories


Here's the thing about travel.  It ends so quickly.  You get back to where you came from and you try to recollect all those once-in-a-lifetime scenarios and it's to impossible.  The attempt at memory breaks ya down to a mere moment in time - thinking/searching/remembering WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

At least that's what happens to me.  I'm trying to look back on my first pit stop from my latest jaunt - Puerto Rico - and what do I have.  A few late-night drinks with a couple of nutcases; witnessing a great restaurant in the making; some crazy Chinese food while it poured warm rain; beer for breakfast; fearless attempts at Spanish; a moon so big it took my breath away; those gorgeous, free-thinking Dominican's; a chirpy Moroccan chef wanting to cook a feast for me; a thousand beautiful smiles; a will to move and move quickly.

In these moments there is intense beauty.  In the aftermath, they're even richer because I will never get them back.  Once - that's how often they happen.  Just like life.  My thought of the day?  Don't fret the madness of life - you'll be gone soon enough.







How to Rehab an Old Sailboat - At Least My Take on it All


Here's one more goodie I penned for Matador; seems I'm all about B-T-S lately...the link is here.

How to Rehab an Old Sailboat

You’ve bought a sailboat. It makes your heart flutter and sets you dreaming about escape.

None of these things matter if you don’t understand the inner workings of your vessel and exactly what you plan on doing with it.

I’ve gone down that road three times now, going from 25’ to 30’ to 36′. If you’re thinking about making the same decision, learn from the lessons I’ve picked up while on my own personal quest for freedom.

‘On the hard’

Most likely, the boat you buy will be “on the hard”, which is sailing lingo for “perched in a dusty corner of a boatyard”. Your job is to bring it back to life.

The first thing you need to do is give it a good bottom paint job. This goes double if you’ll be sailing in saltwater: there are all manner of sea creatures waiting to cling to the bottom of your new toy and eat away at the fiberglass.


Check all your thru-hulls (various holes in the hull designed to bring in and flush out water) and seacocks (small handles that open and close said holes). Make sure that the fittings are secure: there’s nothing more horrific than a hose popping off and flooding the engine room.

After stepping the mast and giving the engine a tune-up, oil change, and systems flush, you’re pretty much ready to put your boat in a slip and form a plan of attack.

LESSON LEARNED: I stayed in the yard way too long because I was intimidated to put my boat in the big Pacific Ocean. But I also met and bonded with a cast of salty characters who have proven indispensable to my current foray into boating mechanics.

Take inventory of the madness on board

The first step in developing your soon to be encyclopedic knowledge about your boat is to rip it to shreds. And I mean really tear it to pieces.

Don’t just look in the lockers – get in there and pull out everything you see . Cupboards and hatches hold incredible amounts of tools, manuals, old parts, lines, cleaning supplies, and electronic equipment.


You have to research what you have, ditch what you don’t need, and come to know the rest of the gear you’ve been blessed to inherit.

After you’ve pulled out your boat’s innards, organize your items and create a master list with photos. That way, when you are freaking out and needing a zip tie, you’ll know exactly where the rascal is stowed.

LESSON LEARNED: I spent hundreds of dollars and uncountable hours at the store buying stuff already buried somewhere on my boat. If I’d inventoried it to start, I’d have been one step ahead.

Systems Management 101

Everything on your boat connects in some small way, and there is a correct way to assess and interpret this blueprint. It is most definitely not by killing a 6-pack and gazing at the stars from the cockpit.


Trace electric lines and figure out what your battery bank is connected to. Rap on tanks and see what corrosion they might have. Check all your hoses and clamps. Read your manuals. Simply put, fiddle with shit.

Once you become good pals with the wildness that lays just out of sight, things become clear. Suddenly, all that mechanic mumbo-jumbo ain’t so bewildering.

LESSON LEARNED: Getting a proper survey is crucial, not only for insurance purposes, but for learning about your boat.

I was tossed 32 pages of cryptic chaos and hundreds of photos after my master surveyor departed. This incredibly detailed document has been invaluable in learning about my craft as well as figuring out what I need to do to bring it around to its prime.

Plan ahead

Be realistic about your future jaunts. Are you sailing around the world? Are you island-hopping in the Caribbean? Are you day sailing in the Great Lakes?

Each of these adventures requires a different schematic and breakdown. If you are tied to shore power in a nice slip in Chicago, you don’t necessarily need a bunch of solar panels, wind generators, and autopilots.


But if you are going on the escapade of a lifetime and hitting the high seas, you absolutely want all of the above, and then some.

You may think you want to take off into the unknown, but get a little practice on the home turf first. Do a night passage. Hell, spend a few nights on the boat – they definitely aren’t spacious, and sometimes not even comfortable.

Imagine downsizing your life in a severe way. Can you do without the giant flat screen and handy washing machine? Can you handle squalls that make you want to piss your pants? All these things have to be considered. Take it one step at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

LESSON LEARNED: The very first thing I did the moment I bought my boat was purchase a watermaker. I’m currently hooked to shore power and have a nice hose that fills my tanks. When I sail around the world in a few years, my Power Survivor will probably be discontinued. I could have used that 3k for a myriad of other upgrades. Point being, prioritize.

Get to know your local ship store

The chaps at the ship store are a bunch of grizzly think-tanks. They have knowledge about boats that would blow your mind, the sorts of nuggets that only come from years of experience on the water.


They’ll rattle on about hose sizes and sail plans until you’re panicking. Sometimes you’ll leave thinking “will I ever know anything at all?”

Most times, though, you’ll leave thinking, “God, I love free information.” Pick brains, scour bookshelves, park yourself in unfamiliar aisles, and study the backs of random boxes.

This, my friends, is how you learn.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t be afraid to ask advice. Just take it all with a grain of salt. Everyone claims they have the best diver, the best rigger, and the best mechanic. You just have to meet these people yourself.

Bookmark these useful sites:

My Latest Burst of Intel: 7 Common Challenges You Encounter After You Launch Your NGO…


Here's the latest article I penned for Matador, pretty useful stuff if you're into knowing a little more behind the scenes stuff from NGO'dom. The real-deal link is here.

7 Common Challenges You Encounter After You Launch Your NGO

Starting the NGO is the easy part. But the aftermath? Now, that’s the thing that keeps you up at night.

I recently started an NGO, 4th World Love, that focuses on community development in distant lands and I’ve learned a few lessons on the front lines of grassroots NGO’dom.

Here are a few bullet points to consider after you’ve already got your cause, your website, and your plan.

Start by remembering this one – don’t forget to laugh - because in the end, if there is no laughing-til-you-cry, it’s just not worth it.

1. Communication Is Primo.

Once you’ve got your organization’s base set up, there will come a time when you must get back home to raise money, make money, and ponder new ideas. Once you’re gone, things can quickly go downhill unless you set up a chain of command, with loads of communication.

We appointed a local Field Director and Field Coordinator before we left with very specific instructions (we need a cash flow report once a month, make sure the volunteers sign this waiver before they start the program, always text back confirmation when you get information).

Things like this keep the program from bursting at the seams. It’s hard when the village has no internet, but with texting at the fingertips of most third world’ers, we’ve had no problem staying in touch… even though there are multiple black outs per day.

REMEMBER: You have to set the parameters in order for them to be followed. Period.

2. And, Then There’s The Exact Opposite – Miscommunication.

Everyone from the village becomes a friend; therefore, they want to text and e-mail all the time. This is fantastic because updates and passing information along is crucial to NGO success. What isn’t great is when everyone starts ignoring the chain of command and breaks free of the system to share their trivial issues.

Better to set up a precise method of relaying information before you leave. Better yet, create a job description document so everyone knows who is responsible for sharing what. You wanna tell me that a baby who had cleft palate surgery is doing well– that rocks. But, if you wanna tell me all about the late petty cash report… well, that gets the smack-down.

REMEMBER: Set up proper channels and make sure your appointed directors are clear with everyone involved about the rules and their specifics. If you don’t, expect chaos.


3. Fundraising – The Ultimate Challenge.

This little diddy is the hardest part of NGO’dom. Where do funds come from? You can’t expect people to keep giving cash, especially in an economy like this.

Therefore, one must get incredibly creative.

We came up with an idea for a contest – Donate $100 to win a free trip to Indonesia was the one we ran last year; this year we’re doing the same thing, but in Baja. People really respond to this idea because there’s a chance for them to win something crazy-cool…not just donate a bit of cash.

But just because they did it once doesn’t mean they’ll do it twice.

“In the end, if there is no laughing-til-you-cry, it’s just not worth it.”

Again, thinking cap goes on. We started producing Pilates/volunteering retreats in Mexico where all profits go to fund 4WL – and the cost of the trip is a write-off. Pretty brilliant.

We also scour local villages for things we can sell (handmade scarves, cool bamboo bags and boxes, and organic soap). But we’re gonna have to amp it up a level and get more than just individual sales – we’ll have to go gangbusters, and try to sell mass quantities from the samples we currently have. Get the order and then worry about getting them made. All profits fund local projects.

REMEMBER: Most people who say they will donate DO NOT. It’s the random folks who really kick in the dinero. Bless them all.

4. Bring in Volunteers…or Not?

The intrepid souls who traipse the world working for free are the backbone of any NGO. They storm in with good ideas, piles of energy, and the will to get things done.

However, they can be a full time job for those running things back on the home front.

Dozens of e-mails have to be answered from online volunteer shout-outs, money has to be wired, transportation has to be coordinated, home stays have to be arranged, and thousands of questions have to be answered. The key is to develop a system for managing it all.


Let’s say someone e-mails, curious about 4WL. Instead of getting really detailed at the top, I just send them a Volunteer 101 sheet, an article I wrote about the village, a volunteer form for them to fill out, and the permanent volunteer schedule.

If they plow through all that information, as well as the highly detailed website, and then blast back specific questions, then I know they are legit and might actually make the trek to Indonesia. If they just ask evasive generic questions and haven’t taken the time to really get deep with our materials, then they aren’t worth the effort.

They probably just sent out a blanket email to 50 orgs and still have no idea what they want to do. I’m not saying don’t be nice, I’m just saying read between the lines.

REMEMBER: Hold their hand, but only if they hold yours back.

5. Establish Your NGO’s EXACT Cause.

Folks ask all the time, “What is your cause, exactly?” Until my last scouting excursion, I wasn’t able to pinpoint it. But, now I can - we focus on community development. Pure and simple.

Whether it’s through organic farming initiatives, carpentry workshops, cleft palate surgeries, English lessons, a new t-shirt business, opening a small café, or teaching photography and video skills – it doesn’t matter. We do it if the village requests it.

I can’t imagine rolling into a township and hearing all of the various ideas and dreams and then shutting someone down ’cause we just do “healthcare” or “AIDS prevention.” Though both noble causes, we’re about more than one thing. And, getting to that determination took some hard digging on the soul front. Even though we lived it, wrote it, and hatched the very idea, crafting the exact statement that surrounds the sentiment took some time.

REMEMBER: Think hard about your cause before you start promoting, because you will be fronted and you most definitely need an answer. A good, telling, inspiring one.

6. Boil Down New Ideas.

Phase 1 is complete. Now it’s time to take it all to the next level and take stock in your recent progress. What is the next level, especially since everything is running so well? Maybe you want to expand your efforts into another village; perhaps you need more volunteers and on-site facilitators; you might even want to start another fund raising scheme.

“That’s what it’s all about – making a difference in the world and feeling really, really good about it.”

At this point, it’s time to take it all to paper because a wing and a prayer might have worked for the first round of goodness, but now, things bear a little more investigating. We just put together our first 4WL newsletter and it was incredible to have all our happenings laid out in one super-fly PDF. Not only did it help all our supporters get the inside tip to all that were doing, it helped us hone in on where we’re headed in the near future…and what might be missing in the right now.

Bottom line, you must share the intel. Take loads of pictures when you are on site. Follow up with volunteers and get them to send you testimonials that you can post on your website and share. Plot, plan, scheme, dream, share– it’s the only way to ratchet up the vibe you’re trying to create.

REMEMBER: Make people proud to be a part of your organization and they will go to war for you…as you would for them.

7. Don’t Forget About Personal Sanity.

All of this work is draining and can be heavy on the soul. Am I doing enough? Where do I get new ideas? Will I ever be able to pull it all off? All these questions keep me and my partner-in-crime awake at night, but the more balance we try to create in our own personal lives, the better off we are.

If I work out every day, my energy soars and I’m off-the-charts productive. If I go out til the wee hours drinking and do a midnight slam down of pizza with ranch dressing, well the next AM ain’t so great.

Finding my own personal level of balance is crucial in making all these great things happen.

You also have to have a level of self-promotion that would make most cringe. I’m certain people get sick to death of my weekly e-mails about new far-flung contests, retreats, and excursions. But, you never know, I might just hit them at the moment they are fed up with their own existence and are looking to make a change.

Be it within you, your network, your village, or your organization’s plans for the future, that’s what it’s all about – making a difference in the world and feeling really, really good about it.

REMEMBER: To a person who makes $20 bones a month, every single penny counts, and if you put your energy in the right place, in the most positive spot, then you will reap rewards like no other. Might not be a penny, but it will shine like one.

It's Not the Swells, it's the Size of the Sea...


Soon, I will be back on-grid, diving straight into the depths of life/work/and the constant struggle to organize my existence.  In the meantime, I'm gonna toss up a few posts about what I learned while on a boat in the Carib.  Just some quickies.

1.  This wall of water you see was viewed off the bow of a 75' schooner that was in transit from the lush island of Dominica to the funky French island of Martinique.  It was stunning and rolling and impressive and breathtaking all mashed into one.  The fear I thought I was gonna have being not within sight of land didn't exist and the peace I felt was tremendous.  Like I'd been waiting my whole life for just that moment.

2.  I'm not super keen on the Carib.  I know millions love these islands, but I'm just not the one to drop $25 bones on a plate of food on a tropical island.  Esp. when I know I can get it in Indo for $3.  But, better.

3.  I whole-heartedly believe in AC on a sailboat. Yes, yes I do.

4.  How far will I have to travel to find silence?  Seriously?  It's not in the little coves in the Carib, cause you know what?  Round about 10pm, a party boat pulls in and booms out tunes with a base that just don't stop til about 6 am.  Hellish.  Sleep deprivation for days and days....

5.  I love sailboats, quiet water, rum, sunrises, night sailing, sunsets, wind tunnels created out of sheets wrapped around me cause I slept on deck, roast potatoes on a boat, going barefoot, sudden squalls, tidiness, snorkeling with sea turtles, random taxi drivers who want to show me their islands, breadfruit, dorado, Carib beers, a good cup of steaming coffee, French omelette's, sea showers, sleeping under shooting stars, my $11 rain jacket, lentil soup, and a good scary book. 


Could This Be the Next 4th World Love Village in Baja?


While hauling ass from Todos Santos over to the Eastern Cape, I stopped down in a squirt of a village in the center of Baja.  Dead, smack in the mid of had some special kind of charm to it that literally took my breath away. 

Population about 300, cobblestone streets (like 3), and best of all, some funky little European-style coffee-house set back one avenue from the main road.  I was smitten the moment I walked in the door and linked up with Veronica, the local who ran the joint.  She was adorable - full of zest and life and smiles.  She told me how her and her baby moved back home to the village from Tijuana  (which is where she learned a bit of English) and she is so happy - unmarried, with her baby and good job near her family in a village she loves.  After making me a freakishly good coffee, we walked together to her little house she was trying to fix up and I told her about 4WL.  She was delighted at the idea of learning more English and said all the villagers would be as well.

There were a few small artisan set-ups in a nearby house and between those, Veronica, the coffee-house (that makes organic wood-fired pizzas), I was close to sold.  Thing is, not everybody can jam to Indo for a month.  Most people are scared even.  Baja, however...well, that is another story.  It's so close and so magical.  And, seriously teaching/learning/showing is hard work, but...with a GIANT proper double espresso latte in the morning, well, staying a month is easy as pie.

Plus, I can drive there. I didn't spring the idea of keeping my solar trailer in Veronica's back yard on her just yet - somehow though, I know she'd be game.  I love the Mexicans.  Was I a bandito Mexican in another life?  Like Zorro? Or was he Spanish?  Whatever, I just love 'em.