Search

About Diana:

Diana is a traveler, a writer and an adventurer! She is also a proud coach of 5th and 6th Grade Boys Basketball, a happy wife and a loving mom of two mini-dachshunds! She writes for various newspapers and online travel sites in and around the NYC area and beyond! To learn and see more about Di, click here!

 

 

Yay for Social Media!

Follow Me on Pinterest

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jan272015

basketball & colombia. who knew?

Many of you know that I am a basketball coach for 5th grade boys and if so, you also know that I consider coaching the best job I've ever had! I don't make much money (read: nothing), but I am rich in high fives, fist bumps, hugs and I hear at least 8x a practice, "hey, Coach Di...". I love it. 

I started coaching in 2000 and have coached girls and boys through the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and various town and AAU leagues. 

Coaching and the kids are a big part of my life. My husband and I are Auntie and Uncle to many kids and being a Coach is an extension of that. I am quite passionate and have been known to get some stern warnings from the refs that I happen to disagree with... ;-) 

I'm not sure why though...

Some may confuse passion for negativity and I get that -- they can be related, but for me it is straight passion--not to win necessarily, but to see my kids excel and improve. Most of them won't go on to play high school basketball, let alone college or NBA, but what I hope I am teaching them is how to work with a team, how to handle being challenged and how to be better.

Imagine my surprise while my husband and I and our friends Doug and Gretchen were in Colombia, South America over the holidays, and I saw basketball court after basketball court. I thought South America was known for futbol (soccer) and baseball!? We stayed on a small island (Providencia) off a slightly larger island (San Andres) off of mainland Colombia. Providencia, closer to Nicaragua than Colombia, is very different from mainland Colombia; the island "natives" don't identify with Colombia or Nicaragua, they are just "themselves" as they say. English is the island's first language--albeit a bit pigeonish-- (Spanish is the first language on San Andres and mainland Colombia) so I was able to ask many questions and converse with the locals about basketball (and many other things) without having to summon my half remembered memories from high-school Spanish (Look at me now Sra. Arnold!!) 

me posing in a giant basketball gym we stumbled on in Providencia. 

One afternoon at a rasta bar, one of many stops on our "around-the-island boat" tour we hired for the day, we met Chase---a super tall guy that I soon found out was only 13! After my husband mentioned to Chase I was a basketball coach, the only conversations I had the rest of the day were focused on basketball; this kid had my ear all afternoon! The passion he had for basketball, for his training, the gym he belongs to and the money his parents pay for him to play and travel intrigued me, because again---I thought soccer and baseball were the thing down here.  

Chase. Could this kid pass for 5th grade? 

After meeting Chase--and providing him my email address so he could ask me about drills, etc., (although I have yet to hear from him) I did some research on basketball and Colombia.  

Apparently, Colombia is a country of basketball promise (and hopes). While it is still second to soccer and possibly tied with cycling (huh?), it is a fast growing sport and according to Chase, it's a dream for all Colombia basketball players to get to the NBA. Not a shocking revelation.

Latin America does have a basketball presence in the NBA and in Europe, but Colombia is still striving to become a higher tier basketball force within Latin America amongst the ranks of Brazil, Argentina and the Dominican Republic. 

Also interesting, according to an article I read and in line with one of the practices I saw at a local school during one of our walks around town, gender also influences the Colombian basketball culture: "Colombia, a socially progressive culture, offers women many options for sports in which basketball is quite popular and Colombia has produced at least two WNBA draft picks."

Many families, mainly affluent, but not always, send their children to the mainland and if they are lucky, to the US to stay with a relative or on a school visa to finish out high-school in the hopes of getting recognized by a US college. This was the case with Camila Tapias who moved from Bogota to Florida in 2013 for her senior year of high-school and the next April she signed a letter of intent to play for George Washington University. Tapias had somewhat of a head start though; her mother Yenny Pinilla currently coaches and played for the Colombian National Team, and her father, José Tapias, was one of the best players in Colombian basketball history and currently coaches Piratas Bogotá, one of the top professional basketball teams in Colombia. source: GW sports.

 

Another court. Basketball may be big, but at this school, the hoops are mounted on the soccer goals.  

Columbia has a national team, their equivalent of the NBA, and has produced players that have gone onto success in college in the US (Indiana University counts Colombian native Hanner Mosquera-Perea as one of their power forwards and Texas A&M University has two Colombia natives playing on their mens team: Juan Aparicio and Tonny Trocha-Morelos) and in other National Basketball leagues around the world. Columbia though, is waiting for the day they reach the NBA.

When I mentioned to Chase that most NBA players first attend college to play and then they may be drafted into the NBA; he knew all about that. He said, "I am working with a trainer and next year I am moving to Bogota to go to school and train (on a basketball scholarship)." I verified this with his father, who we also met, because I was still amazed that basketball has such a presence in Columbia. "Basketball is everything to Chase," said his dad. "He knows if he works hard he can accomplish anything."

And as a coach, I completely agree with Chase's dad...

Now -- how do I talk Chase's family into moving here so he can play for my team!?

My current team: the Mavericks

Monday
Jan262015

Cliff jumping in Jamaica

While in Jamaica we stayed on the world famous 7 Mile Beach in Negril.

Sunset on 7 mile Beach

Jamaica as a whole is pretty touristy--but Negril is less so than the main cruise stops, like Ochos Rios.

The beach is full of resorts, restaurants and bars -- but the most unique spot and definelty the most touristy (at certain times--get there before the tour busses stop) is located towards the end of this long beach strip.

Famous for its sunsets and rock jumping (more on that in a minute), Rick's Cafe opened in 1974 when the only people hanging out in Negril were its residents-- fisherman.  

 

a very crowded Rick's Cafe

(photo cred)

Although Rick's can get pretty crowded, we stopped on a weekday afternoon and had the place to ourselves. Our group of friends and family--about 10 -- quickly split into 2 groups as we sipped on Red Stripe, the local beer: jumpers and non-jumpers. The non-jumpers founds some tables and kept the Red Stripe coming and us jumpers prepared. 

I'm not afraid of heights, but I'm also not a super fan of them-especially when contemplating jumping; but how many times would I have this exact opportunity in my life again? I was jumping. Plus, I've jumped before off of a cliff--well, a volcano really. Black Rock is a jumping destination on the Kaanapali side of Maui in Hawaii. About 30' high, ancient Hawaiians believed that this was the place where their spirits went to jump off to join ancestors forever. For me (and my friend Sue) it was just a crazy adventure and honestly the swim out there and climbing to the top of Black Rock were harder than the jump.

me jumping off Black Rock. 

At Rick's, three jump platforms are built into the cliffside rocks--the highest being 35'. The idea is to start on the lower platforms and gain confidence to do the highest one last. But of course that is crazy talk!! Even the shorter jumps were still high and I knew I was only jumping once--so I went to the top (the local guys actually jump off a tree platform at 85' high, but its off limits to tourists). The water below is the clearest I've ever seen in the Caribbean. It looked very shallow because of this, but to actually hit the bottom is pretty impossible (as we were told). 

I was THE biggest supporter of everyone jumping--until it was my turn. Looking down from that platform is something I never want to, or will, do again. It was different than when I jumped in Hawaii. This water was so clear--I think seeing the bottom made it mentally more frightening. On Black Rock you just see waves and lava rock---which SHOULD have been much scarier. 

a bunch of us at the top trying to be brave. Note the tree platform above us for the local jumpers.

Anyway, the security guard/bartender/lifeguard/waiter guy says to me as my toes curled onto the platform edge, "just take a big leap and look straight ahead".

So I did, I thought.

I hit the water with instant pain. I started out straight, but apparently mid-air I got into some sort of quasi fetal position and hit the water with my right side. I surfaced, proud of myself, but I knew I wasn't winning any style points (according to my husband, the spectators watching above apparently all let out a guttural 'oooooowwwhhh when' I hit).

my form sucks as you can see...

The next day I woke up to THE largest bruise I've ever had (it lasted for nearly 2 months) all down the right side of my thigh. I also had a black eye-- my face didn't hit, but the pressure going in from that height caused it. 

Believe it or not, I wasn't the worst case either! One of our friends hit and the salt water went straight to his sinus cavity and he had to extend his trip as he couldn't fly for days after.

In the end, I'm glad I jumped. However, my jumping days are over. Seriously---off the side of a pool is as high as I'll go now. 

Friday
Mar072014

Who should MY Lego Man be?

Have any of you seen THIS? What a fantastic idea: a year in the life as seen from a Lego man's point of view.

photo by Andrew Whyte

I am going to straight out say this--I am copying this idea.

FULL CREDIT for this idea goes to Mr. Andrew Whyte, but as a perfect example that imitation is the highest form of flattery, it appears Mr. Whyte and I are not the only ones thinking on this same wavelength: tiny Batman anyone? It's not a new idea--even at my niece's wedding we had a stuffed animal goat make an appearance here and there (more to come on that).

But even still—the Lego aspect is so fun! Although Mr. Whyte stayed around the UK with his Lego man and had his Lego man "taking" the photos, I will be putting my Lego man in various sceneries all over the World and snapping his photo as I travel around this year. 

I am narrowing down my Lego man choices... please feel free to give me your opinion on which I should use.

It is down to:

Surfer Boy

Argument: I DO live at the beach and love everything water and surf. 

Shakespeare

Argument: I am a writer.

Tiki Island Warrior

Argument: The tropics always call me, and who doesn't love a Tiki?

Comments?

Thoughts?

Threatened lawsuits from Mr. Whyte?

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jan142014

a small ode/post on Seattle…

It is pouring rain today. A day the New York City weathermen would officially label "a washout".

I associate rain with Seattle and I hate Seattle rain—the endless clouds making for night-time looking skies even at 2 in the afternoon, the misty, damp feeling that extends on for days at a time and the annoying wetness that is everywhere: shoes squeak on the floor and never totally dry, windshield wipers try to clear the rain while the windshield begins to fog up, tires squeal in bumper to bumper traffic even though ALL Seattle residents SHOULD know how to drive in rain. Imagine not seeing the sun for weeks. Really. 

rainy Seattle skyline

 photo credit: http://walknridela.com/2010/12/02/7th-street-metro-history/

I didn't move to NYC 7 years ago JUST to escape Seattle rain, but escaping it was a huge bonus. The rain we get here is seldom, but drenching—not like the normal everyday rain that Seattle gets; our rain is the kind that leaves those huge blobs all over your jeans as you sprint from your car, through the puddles, to seek cover. The drops must weigh at least 1/4 lb.

As I take shelter in my favorite coffee shop down the Shore, my hatred of rain triggers other thoughts about Seattle -- but the good parts, the parts I love and miss. For instance, this coffee shop reminds of Seattle. It has character, nooks and crannies, dim lighting, art for sale and wifi. In the City there are many "Seattle-esq" coffee shops, but where I currently am— the Jersey Shore— finding even a Starbucks is a struggle. Out this way, Dunkin Donuts ARE the coffee shops and if you've never been to one you aren't missing out (although I do like their coffee). They are a sorry excuse for a coffee shop -- more like a teeny step-up from 7-11 self-serve coffee kiosk. 

My fave NYC coffee shop: Think Coffee.

The music playing here takes me back to my home town too: The Shins, Jane's Addiction & the Police. You're right, these aren't Seattle bands, but the songs are powerful sensory points transporting me back to specific events in Seattle that happened 10 and 20 years ago, a time when I couldn't imagine living anywhere but Seattle. 

This small ode/post is over. I need to prepare to sprint back to my car to avoid a total drenching as I make my way home. The happiness I feel from no longer living in the concrete rain forest that is Seattle runs deep—but so do my memories Seattle invokes and that is awesome, because they make the rainy days here more bearable.

Sunday
Sep152013

Tobago? Huh? Where is that?

A few weeks ago two of my besties from high school and I embarked on our 3rd annual Girls' "Weekend" (which of course, is always longer than just a weekend). In past years we've visited Zion, Utah (GORGEOUS) for some hiking (and lounging and drinking) and New Orleans (CRAZY) for literary sight seeing & beach day trips to Pensacola (and lounging and drinking). This year we decided to venture outside of the states to somewhere tropical and different; we went to Tobago (pronounced Ta-bay-go).

Where is Tobago, you ask?

Good question. I didn't know anyone, nor had I met anyone during the planning phase of this trip, who had even HEARD of Tobago and my only experience with the country was from my college days when I was assistant manager at the Birkenstock Store and every sandal had a city/country name. 

The "Tobago" Birkenstock

The past few months have been pretty crazy for me with deadlines and other work stuff so my friend Rachel took the reins and planned our entire trip. I knew it would be sunny and warm (and of course nice, she wouldn't choose a bad location)--but I had no real expectations. Tobago as it turns out, is an exciting, isolated, "can't believe my eyes this place is not more popular," Caribbean paradise. We stayed in the Bacolet Beach area and steps from the pool of our gorgeous rented home were mango, bread fruit and lime trees ripe for the picking and a jungle path leading to a deserted white sand beach with aqua water. In fact, we were surrounded by deserted beaches with the warmest water and our only visible neighbors---- peaceful, grazing donkeys and really fast, really green lizards (although the local lazy river had resident alligators that we didn't see -- unfortunately, or fortunately). 

Anyone can buy a guidebook for Tobago and its big brother Trinidad to learn about the islands, so I won't go into that type of review. Instead, here are SIX things the guide books may not tell you (or at least in the same exciting way). :-)

1. Where IS Tobago anyway?

Tobago, claimed "sighted" by Columbus, is technically IN South America but it is part of the West Indies therefore considered Caribbean albeit the most southern of the Caribbean Islands. Trinidad (where foreign flights arrive before taking a shorter flight to Tobago) is less than 7 miles from Venezuela. Trinidad and Tobago are two separate islands 21 miles apart but are considered one country and officially called the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago or as the locals call it, TT. 


2. Sunday School is NOT about church.

Summer months are considered the off-season in TT so most of the people we met were locals. For the most part, they were extremely friendly and most of them asked us the same question: Are you going to Sunday School? No, this island isn't any more religious than any other Caribbean spot (but we did wonder...); it turns out that Sunday School has NOTHING to do with religion but with music, dancing and "liming" (visiting, hanging out) with friends and neighbors.

By the time Sunday rolled around, we three were pretty good at liming (pronounced LIME-ing) so we figured we better try SS. Local steel drum bands start off the night and play for two hours or so then open it up for a DJ that plays loud, local music that keeps everyone dancing until 4 or 5 am (don't ask me how they get up and go to work the next day). Although we were three of maybe seven tourists gathered at this dockside area off the Caribbean Sea, we felt safe and not too out of place. The people watching was entertainment on its own level. Fun Fact: Steel Drumming got its start in TT.

3. Driving--not so easy. 

Locals drive crazy. I drive in NYC regularly and I'm saying this: locals in Tobago drive CRAZY. They pass giant trucks that barely fit the narrow lanes on mountainous curves; they swerve by goats and people meandering in the middle of the road and they tail-gate like crazy----while riding the horn. And for my non-New Zealand readers: be ready to drive on the LEFT side of the road with the steering wheel on the RIGHT side of the car.

And for fun -- please count how many times you intend to turn on the blinker but instead get the windshield wipers flapping. Good times.

Here are some (non-intentionally humorous, yet true) tips from a local website on driving. 

  • Keep your eyes peeled for local hazards ... chickens, sheep and goats, cows, adults crossing the road.... Politely tap your car horn if you suspect danger — its better to be safe than sorry. (Author's Note: we were tapping our horn nonstop around the tight curves all over the island. Also, street dogs should also be on that list—watch out for them!)
  • Cars inevitably drive with their windows rolled down ... and as expressive people while talking we gesticulate constantly, hands outside the drivers car window are not uncommon. Be aware — that hand may (or may not) have been making a signal. Slow down and see what happens next.
  • Indicator lights — are usually a sign of what the driver ahead intends but sometimes the light remains blinking after the turn is made.

4. But still rent a car.

Even with these warnings, I do recommend renting a car to fully realize the spectacular beauty and landscapes the different areas of the island offer. Mountains, rainforest, beach, military forts (TT has an intersecting political history) and small fishing villages with old timers that sit and watch the day go by in plastic back chairs.

One small fishing village in particular that's worth a drive is Charlottesville. A couple street vendors, a small grocery and Gail's, the best restaurant on the Northeastern coast of the island, are the opening act for the amazing Pirate's Beach which is a small hike away (park near Gail's) and is totally do-able in flip flops -- especially when you know you can have a cold Carib at Gail's on your way back. 

Pirate's Bay as seen from the top of the hike. 

Gail and me eating chenet the local fruit (pre-Carib)! 

Our capable and mostly fearless driver Rachel. 

5. The Caribbean Sea is COLD.

Well not really COLD, but where we stayed, the Caribbean is colder than the Atlantic--which is a rare occurrence! Tobago sits so close to the equator that the Atlantic side of the island (where we stayed) had much warmer water temps than the Caribbean side. 

Our private beach with the oh-so-warm water! 

6. Everything STOPS when the National Anthem plays.

When you are driving, eating, walking, talking, etc.,  you must stop and sing along or at least stand to attention. I am proud to say we adhered to this while driving (see #3 above). 

According to the office of the President, the following is protocol:

'The National Anthem should be accorded the respect due to it when played, and on no occasion should it be treated with scant courtesy. Must be played in the original music; the pitch, speed and tone can be changed.

When the Anthem is being played all persons should pay respect to it by standing to attention.'

Trinidad (the big one) and Tobago

This girls "weekend" was of course the best one so far, but everyone can guess that I'll likely say that about the next trip too; the most recent vacations have a way of earning that title. But this trip to Tobago will be hard to beat. There aren't too many places where one can feel totally immersed into the local scene (benefit of going "off- season") and learn so much about the culture and people while still feeling a bit touristy. Of course, my girlfriends and I could vacation at the Best Western in a place as regular as Portland, Or and still have a wonderful time--so maybe my view of destinations and girls trip awesomeness will always be wonky. :)