Friday, June 8, 2012

TigerBlog At 36,000 Feet

TigerBlog is a huge fan of the monitors in airports that show all the departing and arriving flights.

It’s always fascinating to see the number of different directions that everyone gathered in the same airport is headed.

On the departing board at Newark Liberty International Airport yesterday afternoon, for instance, there was a row in the L’s that had in order Las Vegas, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles.

TB’s flight yesterday was in the S’s.

Directly above was San Francisco. Directly below were San Juan, Seattle-Tacoma and Shannon.

TB’s flight was headed to San Jose, the one in Costa Rica, not the one in California.

The occasion was the men’s lacrosse team’s international trip, which began yesterday and will run through this coming Thursday, all in Costa Rica.

NCAA rules permit teams to make one international trip every four years, ostensibly to give each athlete the opportunity to go once during their time in school.

Four years ago, Princeton went to Spain and Ireland, and it was a fabulous experience for them – and for TigerBlog.

This time around, the entire trip is in Costa Rica, and it is part of Princeton’s growing relationship with Fields of Growth, which is using lacrosse as an educational and cultural tool in what can be considered emerging lacrosse nations, most notably Uganda and now Costa Rica.

Princeton’s connection with the organization began last summer when All-America defenseman Chad Wiedmaier went to Uganda for four weeks, a journey that will be repeated in a few weeks by first-team All-America middie Tom Schreiber.

Of the travel party from the trip four years ago, there are very few repeaters.

TigerBlog is back, obviously, as are academic athletic fellow John McPhee, athletic trainer George O’Neil, team doctor Margot Putukian, program consigliere Bryce Chase and assistant coach Greg Raymond.

Other than that, everyone is new, including head coach Chris Bates, his son Nick and even TigerBlog Jr., who gets to tag along.

The trip to Costa Rica is about one-third third vacation, one-third Fields of Growth service and one-third lacrosse. The Tigers will play the Costa Rican national team, and there will also be clinics and exhibitions during the week.

Princeton will make three stops, the first in the capital city of San Jose and then in coastal regions Samara and ultimately Tamarindo, from where the team will fly home.

Among the activities are white water rafting, surfing, beach lacrosse with a group of local children and several service projects.

Oh, and ziplining.

Anyone that TB has spoken to about Costa Rica raves about it, saying it is among the nicest places they’ve ever seen. In fact, the white water rafting trip is on a river called Pacuare, which National Geographic ranks as the third-most scenic river in the world.

Of course, the first words out of all of their mouths has been ziplining.

Open heights are not TB’s best thing, and he’s going to be an 11th hour decision on the ziplining. He’s leaning away from doing it, since having someone puke on the floor of the rain forest from a zipline doesn’t seem to have much value.

The flight to Costa Rica was on a 737-800, which is one with three seats on each side of the aisle. TB sat in seat 29D, next to one of four friends – New York City firefighters, including one who played lacrosse at Towson -  who were heading to Costa Rica for his bachelor party, ahead of a July 3 wedding. Next to him was Schreiber, who read the “Catcher in the Rye” and somewhat infuriatingly to TB kept the window shade down during taxi and takeoff.

It didn’t take long for the fireman and Schreiber to realize they had a common acquaintance, the fireman’s uncle, who was one of Schreiber’s lacrosse coaches at St. Anthony High School. During the course of the flight, they talked about Long Island, police vs. firefighter athletic contests, what Schreiber’s future plans are, the difference between indoor and field lacrosse, the value of always carrying baby wipes with you and a bunch of other topics, with the time spent talking ratio between them somewhere in the order of 10:1, with Schreiber the one.

There was DIRECTV access on the monitors in front of every seat, at a cost of $7.99.  Also infuriatingly, the service automatically stopped when the plane left U.S. airspace, or just before halftime of the Celtics-Heat game.

Across the aisle from TB was supposed to be Chase, but Andy McCall traded seats with him, since McCall, a California native and frequent flyer, got an automatic upgrade to first class, which is where Chase got to sit during the four-hour, 30-minute flight, which was pretty nice of McCall, if you ask TigerBlog.

And what did McCall get for being so nice? Scolded by the flight attendant when he stood up to get something out of his carry-on after the plane had pushed back from the gate.

If you’ve ever flown out of Newark Airport, you know that leaving in the late afternoon usually means a long wait between pushback and takeoff, and Princeton’s flight was no different.

The plane hadn’t budged in 10 minutes when McCall stood up, and it wouldn’t move for another 10 after that. In all, it was an hour between boarding and takeoff.

And yet that didn’t stop McCall from hearing this from the flight attendant as she walked by: “Maybe we should hold up the whole flight just for you.”

McCall took it in stride.

After all, that’s how it is with the start of a trip like this one.

It’s really hard to have anything get you down. 

After landing, it was about a 20-minute ride to the hotel, in three separate mini-buses. Diego, one of the guides, said that Costa Rica is the friendliest place on Earth.

So now it’s off for Day 1in Costa Rica, which begins with the white water rafting trip

Let’s see if everyone was right about this country. 

TB has a hunch they were.

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