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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Glucosamine saved me from Premature old-Man Syndrome (PoMS)

In 2004, my right knee started bugging it me. It slowly got progressively worse.  By 2009, I was in so much pain it was affecting me every time I sat down.  If I sat down with my knee at all bent, pressure would slowly build up and within five minutes I would be in excruciating pain.  I would then have to stop whatever I'm doing and violently kick it out.  If I did it correctly, my knee would crack (similar to the sound knuckles make when cracked) and the pressure would be immediately relieved.

You can imagine how distracting this got.  Desk work would be constantly interrupted.  Driving was uncomfortable and unsafe with me trying to extend my leg out to relieve at least some pressure until I was able to get out and kick.  Air travel was excruciating if I didn't get an aisle seat on the left side of the airplane so I could kick at will.

My clearest memory of one of my kicks was sitting next to my dad at The Beatles Love show in Vegas.  I was holding my knee at a 90-degree angle for most of the show.  About two-thirds of the way through I couldn't take it any more.  I slouched down and explosively high-kicked while in my seat.  I missed my dad's face by more than a foot, but he was surprised at how bad it had gotten that I HAD to do it so urgently.

I went to the doctor and he said the cartilage wear in my right knee was consistent with someone in his 50s.  I had fluid on the inside of my knee cap.  He put pressure on it with his finger and you could see it react.  He told me they could drain it but it would just fill up again.  They could operate but there was a ten percent chance I would be sidelined for a year or worse.

By chance, my uncle Tom and aunt Claudia came to Orange County from El Salvador.  She saw me kicking my knee out and asked me why I did it.  I explained what the doctor said, and told her I was going to get a second opinion.  She told me to try "Glucosamina".  I did some research on the internet and found out it was shellfish-based and it could help.  I invested ~$10 in a bottle of Costco's version.

I diligently took two pills a day and within a month, POOF!  The knee pain was almost completely gone.  It's definitely still there somewhat but I have 90% mobility.  I'm still scared to try weighted squats but other than the odd ache here and there I have no signs of the previous issues.

If you suffer from joint pain and are considering surgery, try Glucosamine.  You may get your life back.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nightmare at Playa Yankee "Paradise" aka Casa Pablo aka "Beautiful Sunsets" (Airbnb)

Please see updates at very bottom!

This is the place I'm referring to:  Stay anywhere but here!

I'd been eyeing this place as a possible vacation spot since I had started planning over a year ago.  We had originally intended it to be a ten-day vacation but I splurged and extended it specifically so we could stay here. We stayed at the great Casa Las Mareas in Encanto del Sur, just north of San Juan del Sur and, as good as our stay was while there, we were excited to come here.  I'd had visions of teaching our eldest daughter to swim in the pool here while my wife enjoyed the view with our younger daughter.

We got there on a Wednesday.  The view to the water was spectacular but was immediately marred by the sight of the green pool; hornets swarming in the shallow area as well as some elsewhere in the pool.  My daughter was understandably freaked out.  I asked Gilberto, the caretaker, about it and he said (translated quote), "It's an open area, there's nothing you can do about them".  I thought back to our stay at Casa Las Mareas and its pristine pool, also in an open area.  I let the idea of asking him to put out wasp traps slide after I realized I didn't want to dip my head in a pool that looked like this:

The first time the power went out was before 11PM our very first night. My wife and I woke up within five minutes of one another, sweating and wondering why.  The fan, our sole source of ventilation, had turned off.  We chalked this outage to the planned power outage the entire San Juan del Sur area goes through on Thursday, figuring maybe they were getting an early start.  We had our girls (three years old, seven months old) with us in bed and sweltered through the rest of the night.

The following morning, the power came back on briefly, then went out again after about thirty minutes.  We (my wife, our two little girls, my uncle and I) took a day trip that day and came back to the house.  The power stayed on for a little over one hour this time, just enough to give us hope that the power issues were behind us.  The power went out again and we settled in for another sweltering night.

I arose before sunrise and walked outside.  The houses below (known as Beach House Beauty when it was listed on the market) and Casa Alta both had power.  A five-minute walk in the opposite direction revealed Casa Monet had power as did Orquídea del Sur.

The next day I spoke to the caretaker at length about the issues.  I asked him why we were having power issues if we had a solar power system (after I heard the humming and spotted the batteries and put two and two together). He explained to me that the "solar system" had broken six months ago and the panels had been removed.  The main power appears to be inexplicably running through the solar power inverter and more than likely through the batteries, as they were humming.

I asked him if the owner was aware of this and he eventually admitted that the owner was in fact aware of the issue with the power going down constantly.  It was on this day, our second-to-last full day of our time here, we were told there was a generator available for us.

At this point we still weren't sure if the power issues would continue.  My wife and I thought about the sound of the generator and how it would decimate the sound of the ocean way down below, but at least we'd have power.  I asked him to please set it up and he agreed to do so.  Ten minutes later I heard an engine start and unfortunately for us it was his motorcycle's and not the house's generator.  Gilberto took off and I didn't see him again until the next day.  My wife tallied our time without electricity and including a three-hour spurt, we had four hours of power/communication (no cell phone reception at the house, no wi-fi without electricity).  We ignored the groceries we had purchased and placed in the refrigerator for fear of letting out whatever cold air may have been left and spoiling our perishables (these ended up spoiling anyways).  We reluctantly went out to dinner again, one-hour round trip into town, so my uncle and I could get wi-fi and communicate with our respective jobs and clients.

I grew up in El Salvador both during and after its civil war and it was a rare day that the power didn't go out.  I am well aware of the fragility of the power grid in this part of the world. So you can imagine my frustration when EVERY house in the vicinity has power except for ours.  This is a COMPLETELY preventable issue of which the owner is absolutely aware, according to the caretaker. 

The next day, Saturday, the caretaker was there and I asked him again, more urgently, to please set up the generator.  We even discussed the best place to situate it.  He said, "Como usted quiera" (As you wish).  Not five minutes later, I heard his motorcycle start and by the time I got out there all I saw was the dust rooster tail that disintegrated before my frustrated eyes.  That dust cloud would be the last sign of Gilberto for the duration of our trip.

Rather than enjoy our last vacation day, we planned our first of what would turn into THREE trips into town (one-hour round trip down a VERY bumpy long stretch of dirt/rock road).  We had to go there because the next day was our last day, and we had to confirm our trip to the Liberia airport in Costa Rica and we had no way of communicating from the house because of the power issues.  We didn't know when/if/for how long the power would come back so we got ahead of the issue and drove into San Juan del Sur.  We were able to message the shuttle company, the rental car pick-up person, and the surf shop from which I'd rented my surfboard to coordinate.  We didn't get to confirm with everyone, so another trip was necessary before our last trip in the evening to ensure nothing had changed for the next day and get dinner (more unnecessary gas and food costs we could have avoided had the owner cared).  The power was out when we got back all three times, but came on for about  four hours total again.

We never saw Gilberto again.  We left the keys hanging by the door hoping they'd make it back to him without issues.  We never got any guidance on what to do with our trash/spoiled groceries.  The shuttle came and we were relieved to be gone.  How terrible does one's experience have to be when they can't wait to get home from vacation?  We were absolutely blissful at our first rental and are completely angry with the owners/managers for what amounts to fraud.

The crystalline pool shown in the VRBO ad was so inviting and we arrive to a hornet-blanketed science experiment.

Lack of power to only this house meant stress for everyone involved.  I couldn't get in touch with work clients until I went into town.  My uncle was dealing with an intricate project which he dealt with as best he could the little time we had power and our too-frequent trips to San Juan del Sur

This was supposed to be the absolute climax of our trip and it was an absolute nightmare.  The pool was unusable (the owner did offer to have it "cleaned" our last afternoon there even though I'd sent him pictures where chemicals and time were clearly needed).

Here are a couple of our exchanges. The first one is from March 31st, our first full day there (the previous day we left for Ometepe) with the realization that the power outages were not a cause of the Nicaraguan power grid but of internal issues of which the owners are fully aware, according to the caretaker.

The second-to-last sentence touches on our indecision to turn it on, not knowing if we were unlucky with the power issues.  We ended up asking Gilberto to turn it on about ten minutes after I sent this email (the power went off AGAIN).

So in case you didn't catch it, the owner's response was that because they have a generator for outages, there will be no talk of refunds.  Never mind that we never saw the generator and asked for it to be turned on several times.  Man, did we get bamboozled...

Don't be fooled by the following misleading claims in the ad, taken straight from their VRBO ad:

Nicaragua is blessed with an almost constant wind thanks to Lake Nicaragua.  Many houses are shrewdly built to take advantage of the natural ventilation possibilities.  The roof eaves at Casa Pablo were short-sightedly dropped down to cover the ventilation holes throughout the house, including those facing the predominant wind direction.  This means you won't get the natural cooling effect as described above.  And if you have power issues approaching our MASSIVE power outage issues, you will be soaking in sweat at night.

Ouch, this one hurts to read after the fact.  Here is where they admit that reliable internet (not to mention communication for checking in on clients, sub-contractors, family members) is important.  They, and this is straight from their caretaker Gilberto, knew the house had major power issues and still rent it out at full price.  Looking at their ad now reveals NO mention of the issues we confronted and is still promising an idyllic experience.

Here's a video of our last night:

 Here's a video of what we tried to do when the power went out, as instructed by the caretaker

UPDATE: The owner wrote me to say I was lying about the generator.  He said Gilberto told him he had hooked it up for us.  He told me he had seen the above videos (presumably tipped off by VRBO when I submitted a review) and he still insisted I was lying.  Why would I write to him our second full day of our stay and complain if the generator was going and all was well?  Why is there no power in the above videos?  Why isn't there the loud sound generators make in the video?

SECOND UPDATE: The owner pulled his listing off VRBO.  Good!  Hopefully this will save people from ruining their vacations here.  It's still up on Airbnb as of this writing.

THIRD UPDATE: My uncle, bless his heart, wrote up his review about what he experienced during his terrible stay at this "vacation" rental.  The link is as follows:

Friday, April 14, 2017

TALK STORY: The Infamous Cabo Trip, August 2007

My buddy Tim is a German national and had to leave and re-enter the country so as to renew his visa.  He invited me to go to Cabo with him.  I wasn't too excited about Cabo, so I suggested we go to Puerto Escondido, in Oaxaca, which is about 5/6ths of the way to El Salvador.

He mulled it over and decided he didn't want to "shit his pants while getting slammed by closeouts".  He also said, "My buddy just got back from there and he said it was the best surf trip of his life".  I looked at the SurfLie forecast for Cabo and it said it would be between 2-4' and 3-5' with fair to good conditions.  I booked my ticket, a little bummed we weren't going to Puerto.

On the way to our hotel, we spotted the famous Costa Azul Surf Shop, which you may be familiar with if you're an avid reader of bumper stickers like me.  We went in there and rented boards.  I spoke Spanish to the girl who worked there and tried to charm her into a lower price but it didn't work.  She said I was the first person from El Salvador to visit the surf shop, at least that she knew of.  That's really not an interesting factoid considering Cabo is not really a surf destination and El Salvador's waves are WAY better.

We checked into the hotel and made plans to scour the area for waves the next day.  We passed by a spot that reminded me of a zippier version of El Recodo in El Salvador, but the sets were maybe 2'.  After getting lost and having to ask for directions multiple times, we found our way to Shipwrecks, a fickle but great-when-it's-working point break after over an hour on washboard roads.  It was about as flat as could be.

We came ALL the way back around the cape and surfed El Tule, the aforementioned El Recodo-ish wave.  It was more fun than expected, but our hopes were so low that it was still a C- session.  The best part was that we had surfed it to ourselves.

Upon returning I logged on to check what the conditions were at Puerto Escondido, just to torture myself.  The surf report revealed my worst fears.  Puerto Escondido: 8-10' EPIC.  I had never seen Surfline assign this adjective to any day before and I have yet to see it again.  I showed it to Tim with a pissed off look on my face and he was really sweet about it.  He said, "Whatever dude, like you would've charged it".  I assured him I absolutely would have.

The next day we drove up the other side of the coast, on the Pacific side to a spot called Los Cerritos.  There were waves there, probably chest-high on the sets.  It was crowded, but we were getting waves.  The water was FREEZING and we were out in boardshorts.  We lasted as long as we could and went in to enjoy lunch.  Lunch wasn't great thanks to a squadron of flies that dogged us and our burgers throughout our meal.

We kept driving up the coast and exploring with very little sense of the surf.  We drove down several washboard roads that seemed to lead to the ocean.  On one of these, the angle of our approach was such that we were rocked violently from side to side very quickly, leading us to laugh our asses off.

We kept driving towards Cabo and saw a dilapidated sign that read "San Pedro RV Park".  We pulled off and went to explore what remained of someone's dream.  It was like visiting the rotting corpse of a business.  The windows had been smashed and the building while still standing, would not be for long. 
While there, inspiration struck because I leapt into a Madonna lyric "Last night I dreamt of San Pedro (RV Park)...".  There was a great set-up out front for waves and we could see fading murals of the wave in its day, doing its thing.  No waves on this day, though.

Our last Friday of the trip, we rolled up to Monuments, just outside of Cabo San Lucas.  I'd salivated over its pics as it was a meaty left point, but both times we'd checked it had sucked; tiny and/or unsurfable. Well, our final check revealed racetrack lefts coming down the short point and only spongers on it! 

We headed back to the car and our boards and then back out to the point.  We paddled out and I noticed there weren't enough waves for all of us.  There were maybe two spongers now and they were sitting deeper than us.  As one caught a wave, I decided to go deeper than his remaining counterpart.

I was almost immediately rewarded with the undisputed best wave of the trip.  I gingerly drew lines up and down the face with a very side-to-side approach, careful not to ruin the first great wave I'd had all trip.

I buzzed upon kick-out.  My lust for more seemed to increase with each paddle stroke.  I set up outside both spongers this time and within five minutes another set wave came.  I had to pull back on this one as it seemed to section off right where I was.  I paddled in a little more so I would be inside the sectioning bit but still outside the remaining sponger. 

A nice-sized wave came and I was all over it.  I had great positioning on it, maybe even a little early.  I paddled my ass off, slid up and descended straight.  I was about to start shifting my weight towards my toes when I went FLYING over the nose of my board. 

Instincts kicked in and I threw my arms out to protect me from whatever impact there may be.  I hit only water, thankfully, but my board was ominously laying two misaligned fins up. NOOOOOOOOO!  Mere seconds before, it had been a three-fin thruster.

I paddled the maimed board out of the danger zone and went in.  Tim had already gone in and asked me what happened.  I mentioned there had been an incident and flipped the board over.  Most of the tail had been delaminated revealing fresh white foam.  One side fin was torn off completely, its escape route etched into the board by the missing foam.

The center fin was poking through the deck of the board, about a fifth of it was showing through.  The third fin was undisturbed.  As I finished my mental assessment of the damage, Tim was in full cackle. He gleefully shrieked, "You're so fucked, dude! You're paying for that board.".  I, at my most optimistic (and unrealistic, I thought, as I uttered the following spoken thought), said "Nah , it'll probably be, maybe, eighty bucks".

We went back to Costa Azul and my first of many prayers was answered when the girl who'd rented our boards was behind the counter.  I came in, board and hat in hand, and flipped it over in front of her after saying there had been an incident.  She gasped, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee! (English Onomatopoeic approximation)".

I chose my words carefully, saying it would obviously need two new fins and a pretty major patch job in the tail's rail and deck.  I admitted I would obviously have to pay a fair amount for the repairs.  She said, "You're going to have to pay for this board, $250".  I grimaced mournfully, respectfully disagreed, and went for another round about how the repairs would have to go.  She did another lap on my having to pay for the board, this time at half-effort, and I did my puppy-dog eyes routine and told her that the board wasn't totaled and was easily salvageable.

She started laughing and told me she was messing with me.  She surveyed the damage up close and after a flurry of Matt-Damon-at-the-chalkboard-in-Good-Will-Hunting type calculations, she showed me a handwritten receipt on which the final damage was $80.  I signed the credit card receipt, returned the board and ecstatically power-walked to the car where Tim was waiting.  I shoved the receipt practically in his face and screamed, "EIGHTY BUCKS, MOTHERFUCKER!".

4.1.17 How does one score Empty Playa Yankee?

We had suffered through our third of four sweltering nights in our terrible vacation rental (Casa Pablo aka Playa Yankee "Paradise") due to power issues at the house, every other house in the neighborhood had power (as evidenced by their exterior/facade lighting).  It was really frustrating when all of the San Juan del Sur has power, except your house (for which you paid a pretty penny.  Full post coming soon...

Apparently, the trick to scoring empty Playa Yankee is to go in the morning, before the hostel/surf school shuttles show.  Our trip's mornings didn't coincide with the high tide, so at the size of the waves we got while there, it was only really surfable at mid- to high tide.  My uncle and I headed down there; I to surf, and he to body-surf. 

We must have caught it right at mid because the waves kept coming.  I had a great time picking and choosing my waves. 

On my first wave, I did a sick top turn on which I was squatting inches from the water as I descended back down the wave, but I ended up falling on my nutsack.  Some guys have a masochistic scrotal pain fetish but I seem to be missing that gene as this confirmed it for the umpteenth time.

I  surfaced and kicked my legs around to stimulate movement and maybe blood flow to the affected testicle and it stopped aching after less than thirty seconds.  I paddled back out and perched again.

I did a couple of pump to oblivion waves and tried for airs on both end sections, the offshore wind IMMEDIATELY removing the board from my feet.  Go for a grab you may say, but how can you go for a grab if you've left and re-entered the water before your fingers touch foam? 😖😔

My uncle made it about an hour before he was over it and I joined up with him after one last wave on which I got my weekly pump quota in ten seconds.

We headed back to the Element and up to our what turned out to be an expensive campsite ($200+/night for four hours of fans, electricity, internet per day and an algae-ridden pool).

3.31 High Tide Playa Yankee with Even More People!,

I'd taken the previous day off to go visit Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua with my family.

By the time the surf looked doable, I could see some heads in the water from about half a kilometer away.  I thought I'd try to get close to my share since we were leaving soon and I'd only surfed three times the whole trip.

It's a close call from our rental whether to drive or walk.  It's about a third of a mile down, but it is down a steep and loose rock/dirt road, some of it just a car-and-a-half-width-wide on some blind turns.

This beach is known for people having their stuff stolen, and had my sandals gone missing, I would have cursed my decision to walk with every step up the hill.

The parking lot was full and I was told to do a hairpin U-turn, about 195 degree turn down and then immediately up broken-up rock.  It took me a few tries of rocking the 4WD Honda Element back and forth at the crux of the direction change to get it.

I hotfooted it down the very sharp and hot broken-up rock and made it to the sand before I'd realized I'd forgotten my ear plugs.  Back up, then down I went.  The main point wasn't breaking today either so around the rock bend I went again.

The beach scene was absolutely hopping.  There is a beach bar set up and quite a few twenty-somethings were partying.

The head count in the water was high, over twenty.

I got several waves stolen from me, including one on which I got back-paddled by a guy who'd not fifteen minutes earlier bitched out a local for burning him on a wave.  He must've misunderstood the idea behind pay it forward.

I eventually, after about forty minutes of doing the paddle/pull-back-because-etiquette-dictates-to-do-so/whirl around/paddle/duckdive/paddle circuit, I caught a couple and biffed both of them.  One was a too-far-out-on-the-shoulder-with-no-speed cutty attempt and the other was a classic EddieP backwards splay on a top turn.  I left the water super frustrated with the crowd and my performance, I gingerly stepped back to the Element, rocked back and forth several times to make it past the gnarly hairpin U-turn, and returned to our blacked-out rental (stay tuned for a full explanation).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

3.29.17 High Tide Playa Yankee

We switched vacation rentals as I'd been eyeing a development thirty minutes south of San Juan del Sur.  It has a wedging left and it didn't look as though it was surfed often.  As we drove down the rutty dirt/rock road, my confirmation bias kicked in with each bump.  There were other waves which were a lot more convenient, it made sense for people to surf elsewhere.

Here's the view to which we arrived (this is post-sesh):

Imagine my surprise when I paddled out in the afternoon and I'm jostling for position with a dozen other dudes.

I caught several lined-up waves (my first with dry hair) and I was enjoying my time out there.  The biggest bummer was a bomb came through and I paddled for it.  I popped up and stomped down and I saw a local paddling right to me less than twenty feet from the nose of my board.  I eyed him as I descended the wave.  I was watching for signs of him beginning a duckdive but his only movement was a look of deepening terror on his face.  I made the decision to jump off my board as I would have absolutely hit him with so little time/face to avoid him had I not aborted.  I reached for my leash underwater and yanked it back so I could perhaps spare him of a chance to get hit by a fiberglass torpedo. 

I surfaced, leash in hand, and asked him if he was ok.  He said yes.  I asked him if the board hit him and he responded affirmatively.  I apologized to him and he shrugged it off.  He never apologized for paddling straight at me, in the way of someone who was up and riding.  I likened this to his not knowing surf etiquette but later debated with myself as to how much of that was surf etiquette and how much of it was common sense.  The result is he was just a kid and the wave of my day was blown.

I caught a nice wave on which I pumped for a while and was going into a roundhouse cutback but didn't commit to weighting my front foot and shifting my hips forward so I awkwardly tumbled backwards.

I left the water and my right buttcheek was really sore for the rest of the night from bailing on the wave to save that kid's face.