Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Rockaway Beach Aftermath

I'm living a charmed life on the UES at the moment, I have heat, power, running water, grocery stores, bars, restaurants and gyms are open.  The only inconvenience is having to work from home - as the office is downtown and expected to be without power until Friday or Saturday - and not having access to the servers at the office.  It's like the hurricane never happened in my neighborhood.  I've offered up the use of my facilities to those I know who have been less fortunate, but the people I know who lived downtown were all able to stay with friends and family uptown and are all doing fine and the people who would love to take me up on my offer are all pretty much trapped in their neighborhoods.

To be honest work is the last thing on my mind right now, I'd rather be out there doing something to help, and yesterday I'd hoped to volunteer to help deliver meals on wheels on foot to some of the elderly people in my neighborhood as their usual volunteers were unable to get through, but my clients' patience with delayed deliverables is starting to wane and I've started to get a few "I know things aren't great on the East Coast right now, but when can we expect to receive...?" so the pressure is on work-wise. 


I was interested to read a post by a woman who lives in Seattle but works remotely for an NYC based company on Jezebel about how weird it feels not to be affected by Hurricane Sandy when everyone she works with is struggling.  Girlfriend, you should see how weird it is to live *IN NYC* and not be affected by the Hurricane while just 3 miles south people won't have electricity until Friday or Saturday and are without cell phone service and out in Rockaway, Staten Island, Red Hook among other neighborhoods it's like a war zone. 

I've thrown money at the problem in the absence of being able to provide hands on help for the time being.  You can make your own donation through a number of organizations including the Red Cross and directly to an initiative to support the community in Rockaway via wepay "Relief For Rockaway".  You can also post a message on Tide's Facebook wall asking them to send laundry trucks and volunteers to help Rockaway and Breezy Point.

Thankfully after them being days without power I'm starting to hear from some of my surfer acquaintances who live in the Rockaways, who have been able to charge their cell phones via portable generators.  It's a huge relief to know that people are okay.

NY Surfing Buddies posted this photo on Facebook of what I think is Rockaway Boardwalk and a message that the NYC Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation will be aggregating info and updates to the NY Surfing community in case we can help in any small way.

Aquatic Apes and The Scuttlefish have a lot more photos of the devastation to Rockaway Beach and Breezy Point like this one of the remnants of the Beach 91st St skate park.

Oooofff more photos of the devastation in Rockaway here.  I really feel that the damage in Rockaway, Staten Island and other areas is being under-reported right now.  As these areas become more accessible I'm anticipating seeing the full impact of Sandy.  I really don't agree with the fact that they are planning to go ahead with the marathon on Sunday as this will divert vital resources that are needed elsewhere right now.

Photo from mercurialn's flickr via

A friend just made it back to his place in Rockaway and posted these photos on Facebook.  People are pissed off at the lack of media coverage when the damage is this extensive and who can blame them.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy: NY1 On Scene - Storm Damage In Rockaway Beach

Just watching NY1 coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and in the words of the onsite reporter, Dean Meminger, Rockaway Beach looks "like a bomb dropped."  Part of the boardwalk was ripped up and floated down Beach 94th St smashing into parked cars en route.

Annoyingly you have to be a Time Warner Cable customer to watch the video link below, at least you do in the US, but below the link is a screen grab of some of the damage shown in the report.  You can see how the boardwalk was pushed inland hitting the black car on the right.

A later report I caught on TV, which is not yet online showed, that some of the playgrounds that were in front of the boardwalk are now crumpled heaps of metal and looting is a serious concern.  80 homes in Breezy Point, further along the beach from Rockaway, were also destroyed by fire.

Map shows location of Breezy Point and Rockaway Beach relative to the city

A Facebook page Rockaway Emergency Plan has been set up to keep people in the loop on how things are over there.  Once the first responders have done their thing I shall see if I can contribute to the rebuilding of the area in any way I can beyond making a contribution to the Red Cross.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy: I feel like I live in a different city

My street is strangely calm on the Upper East Side.  Apparently most of the power is out to lower Manhattan, but I am fortunate enough to still be in possession of my utilities.  I'm seeing photos of the flooding downtown and it's like I live in a different city.

This is a photo taken of my street taken at 10.30pm.  If you look closely you'll see there are a couple of people walking down the street just behind the silver colored car.  My fire escape blocks them, but you can sort of see their legs.  It's pretty windy out there though, I saw the wind catch a container and fling it down the street, so it's not the most sensible decision to head outside, but you can see there's no flooding.

In contrast here's a photo posted on Gothamist earlier today of 18th St and Ave C 


The Gothamist newsmap shows just how busy the emergency services are tonight across the city.

Hurricane Sandy: Rockaway Beach Surf Cam

Despite the hurricane warning I did wonder whether some idiot surfer, unaware of his limits, would go out and try to ride the 6-10 foot high waves we are getting in Rockaway right now, so I couldn't resist a sneaky peek from a very safe distance via the surfline beach cam.  

Here's how it looks at 8am, 4 hours before the predicted height of the storm and thankfully there are no surfers, but as you can see there are a couple of intrepid spectators.  

Hurricane Sandy comes to Rockaway. 8am, Monday October 29th.  

Rockaway is in a mandatory evacuation zone, but the news channels - which all have reporters out in evacuation zones - are reporting on how the majority of residents in evacuation zones have not evacuated and decided to hunker down and wait out the storm.  The channel I'm watching, NY1, also mentioned that they've seen a few people out jogging this morning along the boardwalk.  Ha!!

It's a fairly boring looking rainy day on the upper east side.  I'm using the tree across the street as a barometer for how windy it is and the leaves don't even look to be moving.  The calm before the storm perhaps.  My friend just emailed to tell me that the gym at 91st and 3rd IS open and she is heading there now.  I think I'll stick with working out at home, she's just across the street from that gym, but I am significantly further and have no wish to be caught outside when the weather turns.  I don't need to get hit with any flying debris.

Personally I'm soooooo happy that Sandy decided to visit on a work day - Irene chose a weekend.  I may not be able to get out of doing work entirely - sadly there is never a 'snow day' when we all have laptops - but at least I can work on my sofa in comfy clothes.

I'll try and update this post with another pic at the height of the storm.

Update: Surfline must be experiencing heavy traffic as it's hard to access the Rockaway Surf Cam, but here's a screen grab I managed to get at 12.20pm EST, it's definitely looking much bigger and not in the least bit surfable :-)  Meanwhile the leaves continue to gentle flutter on the trees of the Upper East Side.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Hunkering down for Hurricane Sandy

A friend posted this on Facebook this afternoon, which feels pretty true I have to say.  People seem pretty complacent about the impending Frankenstorm.

I have another one to add to the list, which is to speculate if the gym will be open tomorrow morning as a friend of mine just did in an email.  To be fair the worst of the storm is being forecast to run from noon on Monday to noon on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean that it's not going to be awful before then.  It never occurred to me that the gym might be open, because how would the staff get there now that the MTA has closed down the subway and buses??  They can't all live nearby. I was just planning to make use of the copious amounts of fitness DVDs that I've accumulated over the years.  

I'm feeling pretty complacent about the coming storm too which I think that has a lot to do with the damp squib that was Tropical Storm Irene last year, although the meteorologist on NY1, John Davitt, is warning of serious winds for the entire city this time around.  Apparently Sandy is quite the over achiever in terms of her hurricane force winds - over 74-mph - which extend 175-miles out from the center of the storm, normally hurricane winds only extend 30-miles from the center according to NY1.

There were long lines at grocery stores this afternoon to stock up on supplies.  I was going to pop in and get a few bits, but I took one look at the line at one place and decided I probably had enough food to last me through 2 days of potential house arrest: I have salad, a huge batch of granola that I made yesterday, yogurt, fruit, milk, water, pita breads in the freezer, an intact package of McVities chocolate digestive biscuits that I found in the back of the cupboard yesterday, and a fully stocked liquor cabinet.  A pretty healthy hurricane pantry all said and done, well except for the liquor and the chocolate biscuits.  Oddly the thought of the impending storm motivated me to give my apartment a thorough scrubbing this afternoon, so the place is nice and neat should Sandy pay a visit.  What is wrong with me?

Weirdly I just received this email from the BR Guest chain of restaurants informing me that 5 of their restaurants will be open tomorrow, including the Atlantic Bar & Grill in my neighborhood.  So, lunch there tomorrow after the gym then!! Eyeroll!!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Rebuttal Too Good Not To Share

I love this from Ellen Degeneres.  I wonder what the female executives at Bic thought when the idea of pens for women was first floated.  I mean seriously how did this product ever make it to market, you really would have thought that someone in the company would have said "hang on a minute..."  Apparently not!!  However if this hadn't happened then this bit from the The Ellen Show wouldn't exist so I'm happy for that side of it.

In other female friendly news an NYPD police officer was held today in connection with a plot to kidnap, rape, cook and eat women!!  See the NYTimes article here.  Oh and apparently, like me, he's on OkCupid according to this post on Gothamist.   WTF!!!  I'm kind of waiting for his defense to claim he was researching a book he planned to write about a serial killer or something other cockeyed excuse.

I was telling Deesha just the other day that I was feeling kind of meh about the whole dating thing and was pondering whether to disable my OKC account again and this pretty much seals the deal.  To be honest I am realizing that meh is pretty much my baseline when it comes to men from a romantic perspective.  Not that I'm not down with potentially meeting the love of my life, but I don't have high expectations of that happening and it's not like I feel unfulfilled with my life as a single woman, so why bother with all this online nonsense.  When the meh feeling takes over I really have no interest in dating, George Clooney could ask me out and I would say no.  S'true honestly so of course Linkedin decided to test my feelings and surprise me by recommending the Creative Cutie at the top of it's "People You May Know" list, a list he has NEVER shown up on before.  Seriously Linkedin, do you think that's going to bother me???  Phsst, you have no idea who you are dealing with!!!  Nevertheless I am in two minds about whether I shouldn't just keep my OkCupid account active on the off chance there is someone normal out there who catches me on a day when I am thinking "Yes I WILL go for that cup of coffee with this random guy who is in no way a serial killer."  Besides, there can't be more than one wannabe cannibal on the site.  Can there???

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Belize: ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Caves

So the ATM caves - or caves of the crystal sepulchre as it's also apparently known.  I never knew that fact, although I only had to go as far as wikipedia to find it, so not exactly elusive - was our destination for our 2nd full day in Belize and our final day in the Cayo District.  Again we were up with the larks for breakfast on the terrace at 6.30am - how awful for us - before our Hun Chi'ik tour guide, Gliss arrived at 7am to pick us up.  Btw I have to give props to Hun Chi'ik tours - so named for the solitary coati that breaks away from the pack to make its own pack - their guides were excellent, I highly recommend them.

I believe this is the approximately route we took to the ATM caves in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve from Ka'ana Boutique Resort as I recall driving through Teakettle Village.  "Named by the British" said Gliss our guide.  You don't say, I would have never have guessed from the name.  In truth I might have second guessed him because I never heard the word 'teakettle' until I moved to NYC.  To a Brit a teakettle is the only kind of kettle that matters and therefore does not need defining by the prefix 'tea'.  I mean seriously, do people think I'm going to be confused by the word kettle and think they might be referring to a fish kettle?  Trust me, such confusion will never arise.

The drive along the Western Highway is great, nicely paved roads, no big deal, but once we turned off into Teakettle it was a whole other story and what followed was 7-miles of rough terrain.  "How are you liking your Belizean massage?" joked Gliss from the driving seat as Melissa and I were violently shaken from side to side in the back.  I felt like a ragdoll.  

The terrain looks a lot less rough in this photo than it was in reality.  I think this might be Teakettle Village 
En route we passed teak trees.  "Very expensive wood," said Gliss

And Mahogany trees, a resource previously coveted by the British

The lush Belizean landscapes made me think of Hawaii, but since I have yet to visit Hawaii perhaps I've just watched one too many episodes of Lost.
The car park for ATM caves.  It's an easy 30-minute hike from here to the caves

Unfortunately neither car nor camera was not allowed any further than the car park, so we used the facilities - currently holes in the ground that could give those in the Inca Trail a run for their money, but needs must.  Workers were busy on building properly bathroom and changing facilities, but Gliss had no idea when they'd be completed - and
dressed in board shorts, swimsuits, long sleeved rash guards - "that's a great shirt for this activity, long sleeves are good," said Gliss - and water shoes we grabbed the cooler bag filled with 2 roast chicken sandwiches, chips and salsa, 2 portions of fruit salad and 2 bottles of water that Ka'ana Resort had thoughtfully provided as our lunch plus our hard hats provided by the tour company and set off on our 30 minute hike to the mouth of the cave.  Now as I mentioned in the photo caption above the hike is generally pretty easy and pleasant.  The terrain is fairly flat, there are no significantly hilly parts, but you do have to wade through the river - Roaring Creek - 3 times, which, by the way, is the cleanest river I have seen in my life.  You could clearly see to the bottom and for the most part it only ever came up to my knees and I am only 5ft 1, so not that deep at all really.  I think there was one point where it came up to my waist, but for the most part it was my knees.  You do have to watch your step as the stones can be a little slippery and can be hard to see as the person walking in front of you will froth up the water, but it's fine, no the worse part is the colonies of flesh eating ants that march along the route.

Um...hmmm...that's right, I said FLESH EATING ANTS!!!!!!

Okay okay, carnivorous ants that eat spiders and stuff, but still....carnivorous ants!!! Who knew of such a thing.  Basically you have to avoid getting the carnivorous ants on you, so on the 3 occasions where we came across them on the trail Gliss would pause at the foot of the ant army and then tell us to run quickly through them - usually a distance of no more than 10 feet - and then stomp our feet to ensure none had hitched a ride on our shoes.  We were fine and were never bitten, but that didn't stop me from jumping from every leaf that brushed against my legs in case it was an ant mistaking me for a banquet.

"Why are you so scared of the jungle," said Gliss

"Um...well that would be because it's the JUNGLE!!!" I responded  

"Are you scared of New York City?" he asked. Well no!!  "No, because you are used to it.  If you lived here you would be used to the jungle and you wouldn't be afraid.  People are afraid of what's unfamiliar."

Good point and for the most part I agree, but did I mention that not only does Belize have flesh eating ants it also has jaguars!!!  Jaguars roaming free at that!!!  What does one do when confronted with a jaguar was something I wondered as I hiked along the trail avoiding flesh eating ants??  

The ATM caves are a relatively recent discovery, first reported by Canadian Geologist Thomas Miller in 1989, later catching the eye of National Geographic who produced the documentary "Journey Through The Underworld" in 1992.  Our guide Gliss said that the caves first opened to tours in 1997, which is when he said he started leading people through them.

Now as I previously mentioned cameras are not allowed in the ATM caves ever since May of this year when a tourist got a little careless and dropped his camera fracturing the thousand year old skull of a Mayan sacrifice.  Nice one!!  However since cameras were allowed prior to May I found some good photos on Flickr posted by Island Expeditions that were downloadable.  There are a load of great photos of the caves on Flickr, including these ones by ShellyLeit, but most users had chosen to disable downloading so I was unable to share them here, but I am hoping that since Island Expeditions is a tour company that have no such qualms about me promoting them.

Here's a shot of a group crossing the river.  See, knee high max.  Easy right?

Crossing Roaring Creek on the hike to the cave entrance 

The hike ends at a camping area where we hung up our sandwich cooler, so that we could eat our lunch after the tour, which lasted approximately 2-hours.
A view of the cave entrance.  You swim into the cave, it's not far, maybe 10-feet.  For most of the tour you are wading through water or walking through the dry upper chamber

A view of the entrance from inside the cave

So like Melissa and I you may be cautious about committing yourself to an ATM Caves tour because you are worried it might be, shall we say, challenging!!  If you are averagely fit, don't be.  It's really not as difficult as you probably think it's going to be and the guides are amazing.  I won't lie to you, there are a couple of instances during the tour where I thought "that's way too tight," or "I may have got up here but hell knows how I'll get down," but trust me it's easier than you think, our guide, Gliss, was amazing at pointing out hand or foot placement and telling us not to worry about going down onto your butt.  Your eyes can be deceiving and unless you are significantly larger than the average human or significantly less fit then you'll generally not have an issue!!

Note these guys are in their hiking boots which are generally better for climbing than the water shoes we wore which felt a little too slippery when clambering over rocks for my liking, however you will have to wade through water in whatever footwear you decide upon, so I think the best option are athletic water shoes.  Our guide Gliss loved his New Balance water shoes which were similar to those shown in the photo below.  Note the drainage holes.  I think shoes like these were the best ones to wear, but my $10 water shoes from REI Outlet did me proud.

The cave has some amazing rock formations that I found more interesting than the Mayan artifacts to be honest

But no trip to the ATM caves would be complete without a photo of the Crystal Maiden, an intact skeleton of a Mayan sacrifice, initially thought to be female, but a fact that is now apparently questioned by archaelogists who think 'she' may actually be a 'he'.

That evening we befriended our bartender at Ka'ana Boutique Resort who introduced us to habanero infused tequila.  "It's not too hot," he informed us as he poured us a shot.

Good Lord!!  Not too hot if you're Belizean maybe!!  He then made us a cocktail of habanero infused tequila, pineapple juice and mint which cut the heat significantly by left enough of a kick.  It was delicious, I plan to make my own habanero infused tequila.  

The drink at the rear of the photo below is habanero infused tequila, pineapple juice and mint.  The drink in front is Belizean rum, Caribbean Gold I think was the brand, with soda.

I think I may serve the habanero cocktail at an upcoming gathering in support of friends who are running the NYC Marathon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I don't Belize it... pretty much the reaction I got from everyone when I told them where I was spending my next vacation.  


I brought my laptop with me planning to take advantage of the complimentary Wi-Fi offered at the resorts where Melissa and I are staying.  When I discovered there would be Wi-Fi I had good intentions of updating my blog every couple of days, since I find it takes me a while to complete my vacation posts after the fact, but my trip is almost over and I've updated my blog exactly zero times.  Oh well, the upside is that I've been too busy having a good time to be bothered with blogging.  Belize is fantastic, you should definitely visit!!!

So we began our Belizean adventure in the Cayo District in the western part of the country, close to the Guatemalan border and convenient for day trips to Tikal.  It's pretty easy to get to Belize from New York, just a 3 hour flight to Miami, followed by a 2 hour flight to Philip Goldson International airport.  From the airport it's roughly a 90-minute drive to the Ka'ana Boutique Resort located a short distance from the town of San Ignacio, the capital of the Cayo District.  

We were pretty tired when we arrived at the resort so we didn't do much beyond explore the grounds and have something to eat.  

Home away from home: our casita at Ka'ana

The lower level of the saltwater pool

A path through Ka'ana Resort lit for the evening

The most exciting part of the first half day in Belize was realizing that the resort had fancy cable and we were able to watch the 2nd episode of series 2 of Homeland on Showtime, which was showing at 8pm in Belize owing to the 2-hour time difference with New York, while enjoying the evening treats the Ka'ana team had left in our in room refrigerator.

Delicious evening treats courtesy of Ka'ana

The next morning we set the alarm for 5.30am in order to ready ourselves for a 7am departure to visit Tikal, a pre-Columbian Mayan site, across the border in the Peten region of Northern Guatemala.  

It cost us $15 US to leave Belize for the day and was roughly a 2-hour drive from the border, although that 2 hours also included the time spent frequently braking for adventurous piglets to scurry across the road and stopping en route to visit a couple of lakes: Makanche and Peten Itza.

Ladies washing their clothes on stones in Lake Makanche 

Lake Peten Itza, the second largest lake in Guatemala
It's prohibited for non-Guatemalan's to lead tours of Tikal, so we stopped en route to pick up our Guatemalan guide, Berta, who accompanied us with our Belizean guide Edgar. 

Edgar showing us how they make gum from a tree

Tikal's history dates back to 200-800 BC - carbon dating is more than somewhat approximate apparently - although it came to prominence between 200-900 AD when it dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically and militarily.

The Tikal site was apparently 'discovered' in 1848 by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut, although its existence was already known to the people who lived in the region.  Explorers and looters soon followed.  Archaeologists first started the business of recording the ruins in the 1880s, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the first archaeological project began, with major excavations carried out by the University of Pennsylvania which mapped most of the site and restored a number of the structures under the direction of Edwin Shook and, later, William Coe.  The corporation of Spain continued the initiative between 1996 and 2003.

A Ceiba, sacred tree of the Maya

This is the first structure we came upon after the 30-minute walk from the car park.  To be honest I am not sure what structure this is, my notes being somewhat lacking, but I think it might be 'Complex Q' which fits with the route we took.  I do know that it's a pyramid, as opposed to a temple, and that it was built to commemorate a new 20-year cycle, 20 being an important to the Maya as their number system was base twenty system, known as a vigesimal system. Apparently this was because the Maya used both their fingers and toes to count.

The 6 large stones in front of the pyramid (Complex Q?) are called Stelae, typically paired with flat circular altars that can be seen in front.  The pyramid shown above actually has nine stelae to represent the 9 levels of the Mayan underworld, known as Xibalba, meaning "place of fear." 

Our Guatemalan guide, Berta, showing us a stela and alter
Walking a little further along Berta had us make a right and climb a steep hill.  I later learned that we'd climbed the North Acropolis and as I rounded the corner this is the view that greeted me.  Spectacular!!  

Temple I as seen from the North Acropolis
Look!!!  There's not a soul in the photo.  The good thing about visiting Tikal - and Belize for that matter - in October is that it's the tail end of the rainy season and therefore less enticing to visitors, but if you like a Mayan ruin to yourself and couldn't give a toss about the bars and restaurants being less than crowded then October is a delightful time to visit.  I think we had 3x 15-minute long heavy rain showers during our whole trip.  Rainy season is a relative term.  I loved the fact that even the clouds seemed to co-operate while we were visiting, being on their whitest and fluffiest behavior.

Here's a site map of Tikal.  Apparently Archaeologists have only uncovered 16-Square Km of an estimated 136 Square Km site.  

Despite being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 Tikal no longer receives any financial benefit as funding was pulled when it was discovered that the money wasn't exactly funding what it was intended to fund.  Even the entrance fee to the park does not get allocated to Tikal a 100% and instead goes towards maintaining a number of sites in Guatemala.

Another view of Temple I from the North Acropolis.  Check out the stylish hats!!  Ha!! 

Tikal is as hot as Hades by the way with about 3 times as many mosquitoes, malaria carrying mosquitoes at that, although I was naughty and failed to make it to the doctors to pick up any malaria drugs, but touch wood I was okay and got away with only a couple of bites. I may well have poisoning from over use of insect repellent, but no malaria!!

And here is Temple I again.  I got a bit carried away!!

And again....So this guy would NOT get out of the way and let me take my photo, so I decided to use him to show the scale of the temple. A-ha take that annoying tourist!!

The view from Temple 4.  I later learned from a fellow tourist that this view was used in the first Star Wars movie, and by first I mean the one from 1977, so technically the 4th movie.  4th movie my arse.  Eyeroll George Lucas. Eyeroll!!

The wooden staircase upto the top of Temple IV.  Someone told us it was 188 steps to the top. It didn't feel like that many, but then there are 45 steps up to my apartment so perhaps I am just used to climbing.

Spotted by Berta...a beautiful bird from the quetzel family 

The animals above are from the racoon family and are all over a certain area of Tikal, although they do not approach humans.  They are known as hun chi'ik in Mayan which also happened to be the name of the Belizean tour company we used.  Their Spanish name begins with a P, but that's as much as I know.  When Melissa first saw them she thought their tails were their heads, so now everytime I look at this photo I see them as miniature diplodocuses (diplodocii??)

Seven Mayan temples all in a row, although you can only see 5 of them in this photo.  Berta explained to us that this area was also where the Mayan ball courts were and proceeded to describe a game that sounded an awful lot like Quidditch  

And lastly...temple V
Tikal in two words....go visit!!!