Summer has long been a traditional time for vacations. But on the Vineyard, when the mercury rises, both mercenary and magnetic forces hold us close. Summers here are generally prime time for earning money and, whenever possible, savoring the Island in its sunniest season.
As the days grow shorter and the temperature drops, many Vineyarders – lighter in workload and deeper in pockets – embark for distant parts. Often it’s to a destination as unique as the Island itself, with nary a high-rise or highway in sight. Sometimes, though, an arts-and-culture city experience feels like the perfect counterpoint to Vineyard living.
Many look beyond typical vacation fare for something more unusual, perhaps camping in eastern Mexico or horseback riding on lush, tropical Maui.
When Vineyarders talk of their trips, Costa Rica comes up again and again. With its abundant wildlife and low-key vibe, this peaceful Latin American country continually ranks high among destinations. Last year, jewelry designer Stefanie Wolf of Oak Bluffs recharged at a surfing and yoga retreat in the Malpais, Santa Teresa, area, while Judy Case, a summer resident of Oak Bluffs, celebrated her sixtieth birthday on a coast-to-coast caravan tour, visiting hot springs, pineapple plantations, and nature preserves.
Not everyone flocks to the tropics. Lesli Dodge-Harrer of Vineyard Haven returns to England, her homeland, with a group of girlfriends each year. She leads them on a walking tour throughout the Lake District. “More of a middle-aged women’s pub crawl,” she jests. A few years back, she and Anne Evasick, owner of the Vineyard Haven video store Island Entertainment, where Lesli works, walked across the country from the Irish Sea to the North Sea.
Last February, Reverend Michael Nagle of Good Shepherd Parish in Oak Bluffs pursued a spiritual journey mixed with rest and relaxation on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. An Egyptian friend he knew from the Island welcomed him and offered him experiences that ranged from visiting the site where the Ten Commandments were bestowed upon Moses to absorbing local culture while cooking over open fires with some Bedouins. “I felt safe amongst Bedouins...like I was in a family,” he recalls.
But not everyone gets away as often as they’d like. Avid world-traveler Ruth McGorty of Oak Bluffs regrets she was unable to take a vacation last year. “The saddest part may be letting down those who keep asking me,” she jokes. (She made up for her missed year by joining a National Geographic Adventures tour of Morocco in October.)
As gray winter skies loom over the Island, a traveler just home becomes the consummate dinner-circuit guest, reporting on his new experiences to those at home. Everyone wants to share a piece of the trip, to be reminded that this tiny Island is indeed connected to the larger world.
Falling for Europe
Globetrotter and Edgartown landscaper Alex Morrison has been traveling all of his life, most recently working as a deckhand in New Zealand for several winters.
His tales of foreign lands quickly inspired wanderlust in Maggie Brogan when they met two years ago. When Maggie graduated from college a few months later, they traveled the world together, visiting Greece, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, and New Zealand.
The music changed when Maggie landed a full-time job. She didn’t mind that working as an occupational therapist in Falmouth meant a trip of her own every day; it was the curse of the American two-week vacation that bummed her out.
But Alex accommodated Maggie’s schedule last fall when he forewent his usual lengthy excursion. The two splurged on ten days in Italy and France, where the tourist scene was similar to autumn on the Vineyard – comfortable temperatures and less crowded overall.
When they travel, Maggie and Alex do not pore over guidebooks with anticipation. Instead, they prefer to leave their hotel, not knowing if they will be home in an hour or after dark. Together, they speak a little Spanish, and even less French and Italian. “I’ve rarely run into safety issues when traveling,” Alex notes.
Maggie remembers how their first day in Rome started at a tiny café and turned into a complete tour of the city on foot. “[After breakfast, it was], oh my God, that’s the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain. I never went back to our hotel to change my shoes.”
When their hotel appeared on an American news broadcast because the Occupy Rome protest was happening directly in front of it, it was her mom who was terrified. “She was freaking out! [It] seems like wherever we go, there is a disaster. The earthquake disaster [happened] in New Zealand when we visited,” Maggie says, noting the stories they end up telling when home.
After leaving Rome, they connected with a friend from New Zealand and his fiancée, continuing the vacation in the famed Italian seaside village Levanto, considered the “doorway” to Cinque Terre National Park on the country’s northwest coast. The two couples hiked or ferried to nearby villages, stopping for coastal food and wine along the way.
Alex and Maggie then spent time on their own, touring Cannes in France and seeing Monaco on a day trip via train. Despite their lack of detailed advance plans, the couple feels satisfied with their trip. Maggie’s few regrets include not spending more time in Rome and not buying more olive oil there.
Alex is glad to be between two worlds: a seasonal business owner and avid traveler, appreciating how life on the Vineyard affords him that balance. His worlds often meet, as when an employee beckons him to visit an overseas homeland, or as he observes how a typical Martha’s Vineyard plant might flourish in a different climate.
This year, the newly engaged couple may rent a house in Tuscany, but then again, they might visit Ireland to see a landscaping employee-friend. No matter yet; Alex and Maggie don’t need much time to plan.
Warming up to Costa Rica
Clear skies last winter allowed Myron and Cathy Garfinkle of West Tisbury the thrill of flying their plane to Nosara, a remote village located in Costa Rica’s northwest Nicoya Peninsula. Shaving days off of their travel time by avoiding inconveniently timed commercial flights made their annual pilgrimage even sweeter.
Myron recalls how Nosara’s tiny landing strip was barely noticeable as their plane approached. Without a terminal, parking area, or fuel station, the airport sat on “the edge of a beautiful country where the jungle meets the sea” – an immediate indication of the quiet, village-like, non-commercialized life in Nosara.
Myron says, “It’s like the Vineyard, only amplified.” So much so that Myron and Cathy often find themselves running into fellow Vineyarders while walking on its quiet beaches or buying organic mangos at the farmer’s market. “If life on the Vineyard is slow, it’s several steps slower [there],” says Cathy.
The couple’s time in Nosara – last year for the months of January and February – is a natural complement to their life on the Vineyard. They teach yoga at venues such as the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven, MV Yoga Center in Oak Bluffs, and the Yoga Barn in West Tisbury, and they spend ample time biking (they put more than a thousand miles on their new tandem bicycle last summer). They also grow their own food year-round, and maintain an active family life with three children and one grandchild.
Part of their interest in buying a home in Costa Rica two years ago stemmed from their middle son’s need for rehabilitation after a serious car accident. The family decided to trade their skis for surfboards. “It was a heart-opening, mind-opening move,” Myron reflects, happily noting that most of the family visits during their stay.
Since the rural road system in Costa Rica is not conducive to biking, Cathy and Myron deepen their yoga practice in Nosara, a Mecca for the practice. Nearby at serene beaches, some with black sand, the couple keeps their biking legs toned – Myron surfs while Cathy walks, one time coming upon a mother turtle burying her eggs.
Myron recalls how moving to the Vineyard full time seven years ago, after selling their business in Connecticut, helped them to “really focus in on real aspects of life by eliminating distractions like commercialism, [which makes it] hard to maintain a high moral and value level...and find yourself,” he says.”Going to Costa Rica is like doing that again.”
Three years ago when they first visited Nosara, initially they stuck with gringo (white tourist) establishments. But soon they discovered tico (local) restaurants and markets. That’s when they really got to know and love the area. “Locals are friendly, nice...a great mix with the expatriates from Europe,” Myron says. “Everyone is so sweet, loving.”
One lazy day last January, Myron fished with the ticos, drifting the current, easily catching six or seven tuna in a half-hour. “The place is so abundant, unspoiled,” he says.
Cathy reflects on how their time in Nosara solidified their love of the Vineyard, especially its celebration of arts, culture, nature, and sustainability. Myron talks about their homecoming last year, after landing safely back on Island soil: “It felt like we were truly here for the first time...seeing everything in a new way. [That in itself] was a remarkable experience.”
Usually a journal or camera captures a trip’s highlights. Though avid birders Susan “Soo” Whiting and Flip Harrington of Chilmark take an occasional photograph, it’s a shared calendar notebook where the couple lists each day’s bird sightings that keeps their vacation memories alive. From these records, Soo can reconstruct what they were doing on any given date.
Notes from last February and March’s trip south in the “Bird Buggy,” their first recreational vehicle, include sightings of nearly three hundred birds. Paging through their notebook, Soo recalls the incredible food and music of New Orleans, the reunion in Alabama with Soo’s old friend (a fellow waitress at Edgartown’s Seafood Shanty in the 1960s), and a visit in Mississippi with a naturalist-professor-friend who wrote a book about amphibians on Martha’s Vineyard.
No strangers to adventure, Soo and Flip have led natural history and birding tours by boat and by land throughout Florida, and South and Central America – as well as on the Vineyard and in Rhode Island, where the couple met. Especially familiar with Florida, Soo once served as vice president of the Florida Ornithological Society.
A highlight of their last trip was six weeks visiting various Florida campgrounds. “From coast to coast, Florida has great birding,” Soo says, noting the phenomenal fallouts of warblers every spring. “We always have a good time.” Besides birding and visiting with Florida friends and family – many of whom are fellow Vineyarders – the two led a couple of Audubon birding tours.
While Florida was familiar, camping in an RV was new. They learned tricks, like running an extension cord into a screened tent to create what Soo calls “an addition.” State and national parks became their favorite ones to visit, for their natural walking trails with “nice areas to visit and bird....They had bathrooms and showers and were clean,” remembers Soo. “[Private ones were] fancier, not as fun, without natural plantings...and concrete paths.” One such park housed noisy campers going to nearby casinos.
Their Florida days were spent similarly to their Vineyard days, sometimes spotting an osprey, chirping sparrow, or barn swallow, and then excitedly discussing these sightings with other birders. “Every time you pass someone [on a trail or beach], it’s ‘What did you see?’ and ‘Where?’”
Spotting birds that migrate through Martha’s Vineyard in a different habitat helped Soo and Flip learn more about them. Attending birding festivals on their tour also deepened their enthusiasm and knowledge. Besides marking their notebook, Soo also shared some of these details in her birding column in the Vineyard Gazette and on her blog (blog.vineyardbirds2.com).
As seasoned travelers, the two were not bogged down by the trip’s low points, such as stopping to service the Bird Buggy, scrambling at the last minute for campground space in prime season, or camping in a disappointing concrete jungle. Soo recalls, “All along, people were really helpful.”
For birders planning to head south and wanting to avoid their own travel drama, Soo recommends the Florida Ornithological Society pamphlets about the Florida Birding Trail, which runs from the northern panhandle to the Keys. Soo notes, “Some of the best winter birding in Florida is in Titusville.”
Soo, Flip, and the Bird Buggy will travel again this winter, likely heading west, taking along their newfound camping knowledge and their trusty notebook.