Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highlights from 2015

Is there anything more American than giving your hard earned money to Disney?
I started this blog 11 years ago this month when I was planning on moving to Japan to teach English.  It was a blog about getting to Japan for about a year and then a blog about living in Japan for only a few months.  In the years since I've lived in Orlando, Takaoka, Saipan, Orlando again, Vienna, and now Washington, DC.  At one time I had thousands of readers every day, but that has trickled down to a few hundred (by comparison I get between 3,000 - 30,000 Twitter readers every day).  Yet, for some reason, some of my readers are still there (thanks, Mom).  I still get lots of traffic for my old blogs Famous Chamorro People and Buying a Car in Saipan, but most readers are checking out my recent writing -- which I admit is mostly pictures these days.  Of the 40 blogs I published this year (compared to 489 blogs in 2009!), Early Shark Conservation Has Been an Astounding Success, Running Again, Vacation, and Typhoon Ink were the most popular.

Over the years I've done a look back towards the end of December.  I didn't do it last year, or the year before, but here you go, a few highlights from 2015:

I swam with sharks (again)
Somehow I landed in a career where I get to do really cool things. It was purely by accident. Everyday I worry that they're going to find out and make me put my science degree to work doing what I was meant to be doing: paperwork. Earlier this year during a mission to Bimini in The Bahamas at a meeting where Richard Branson encouraged some Caribbean elected officials to protect sharks, I got to go swimming with my first great hammerhead shark. It scared the hell out of me -- at first. Imagine a giant swimming cow with rows of sharp needle-like teeth moving slowly towards you with mouth open. It's frightening at first, until you realize it's just a cow. Being in the water with living sharks continues to be one of the greatest thrills of my life.

I got a new job
The five years I spent in shark conservation were amazing. I had professional success, gained experience working in the Caribbean for the first time, and made contacts and friends all over the world. Just this year we saw the completion of the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary and new shark policies in the Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, Saba, and Bonaire. And we defended policies in the CNMI, as well as California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington. My time in the shark world came to an end this year when I rejoined Pew's Global Ocean Legacy Campaign, the team I worked with when we created the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. In the few months that I've been on this new team we've seen the advancement of some of the world's largest marine protected areas in Palau, Chile, and New Zealand.

We bought a condo
You're not a true grown up until you have the crushing debt of a mortgage. About this time last year, on a whim I filled out an online form to see if my bank would pre-approve me for a home loan. I was shocked to see how much they were willing to loan me. Our rent was set to make another huge leap when our lease expired in the summer, so Edz and I decided to start the search for a new home. We considered three basic variables when we looked at homes: size, safety, and distance to work. We could afford only two of them. I argued for size and safety and thought we could get a nice two or three bedroom outside of the city. Edz wanted safety and distance to work, and she won, so we put in an offer on a one bedroom condo in Southwest Washington. The seller did not accept our offer. Neither did the second. Our offer on the third home was $60,000 over the asking price, yet we still lost out to another buyer. The offer on the fourth home was accepted and on July 15 we signed a mountain of paperwork and turned over about half a year's salary in exchange for the keys to our new home.

We paid off the car
While not as big a deal as having a new income and new mortgage to suck you dry, we paid off the loan on our car this year. That car is the biggest and most expensive thing I own (the bank owns the condo). Now that I don't have to make payments, my plan is to run it into the ground and not buy a new car for as long as possible. This includes not making life choices that will require the purchase of a minivan.

I ran a marathon
I ran the Disney Marathon in January and the Washington, DC Rock N' Roll Half Marathon in March. I did not recover well from either. Between the marathon and the half I only trained for 3 days. And I don't think I trained more than 10 days after that race -- although I ran the Orlando Turkey Trot in November and the Saipan Christmas Island Relay in December. I'm ending the year fatter, but not at my fattest. Weight loss is going to have to be a resolution for the new year.

We traveled a lot
Edz rung in the new year with family in the Philippines, while I was in Buffalo with the Ruszalas. Work took me (in no particular order) to The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, Saba, Sint Maarten (and Saint Martin!), Fiji, Chile, Samoa, Saipan, Guam, Curacao, Bonaire, Grenada, Puerto Rico, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Edz tagged along on three trips, plus we went to Florida for Thanksgiving.

Edz is almost a US citizen
Edz received her 10 year US green card this year and applied for US citizenship. She's finished with the biometrics and we're waiting for the government to schedule her interview, which she studies for every day. What's in the interview, you ask? There are a list of 100 questions and she'll be asked 10. She has to answer six of them correctly. Then she has three chances to write a sentence in English and three chances to read a sentence in English. She has to do each correctly only once. After that they'll schedule her naturalization ceremony. If you're reading this, you're invited! Stay tuned for details.

I started a new network of island conservationists
As part of my new job I've started a learning and networking group of conservationists from 8 Pacific countries called The Island Voices. It's the new Shark Defenders. Or Beautify CNMI. I'm going to get to work with these amazing people to advocate for the creation of new marine protected areas and to reduce pollution in our oceans.

We spent Thanksgiving as a family for the first time
Most of my immediate family members (except for Tiana!) spent Thanksgiving together for the first time since the kids started getting married. This was Edz' first Thanksgiving with my family and she survived it with minimal scarring. During our week in Florida the brothers ran a 5K. Edz and I also spent a day at the Disney Hollywood Studios.

I made new friends, and reconnected with old ones
I've kept myself busy these last few years and haven't always made time to spend with friends and family. I made more time for them this year. It was great ringing in the New Year with Brad, Kathy, the kids, and the family in New York. I saw a lot of Kevin and Mom this year. I went to Florida three times and they came up to Washington, DC the week we bought the condo. Speaking of the condo, sitting on the porch and drinking beer in the late afternoon with whoever will come over (but especially Ian) is just about the best thing ever. We saw Brian and Joelin four times this year, including a fun night at Universal Studios in Florida. The Filipino mafia remains strong. We visited Vince, Lynn, Necole, and Lucy on the Eastern Shore twice, Aileen and the kids at Jolibee in Virginia Beach twice, and Mike and Maricel came for cherry blossoms -- and later in the year we saw them in Saipan. And then in late December I had my longest visit to Saipan since I got married (there was also a short trip in July). I rode around in Uncle John's Jeep and I spent hours with Cinta, Gus, Laurie, Ike, Horiguchi, the Ruszalas, and saw Star Wars with the McKagans, Dearys, Goodridges, Ernests, Hasselbacks, and Matsumotos.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Orlando Turkey Trot

It's a testament to how busy I was in Saipan that I'm only posting photos now that I'm back in Washington, DC.  That includes photos from November, about 50 photos from Lucy's 1st birthday party in Onancock, and our Thanksgiving trip to Florida.  I'll get to the Disney photos soon, but how about a few shots from the 2015 Orlando Turkey Trot first?

It was my idea to run the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.  The boys were all for it.  My sister and wife were not.

I've run this race before, but I think it's been about 20 years.  The race isn't timed and no one takes it too seriously, you just give them money in exchange for a t-shirt and a quick jog.

Man, I've put on a lot of weight this year.  I'm amazed Susannah recognized me.  Well, she is running for Congress.  She must have super powers.

As expected, Kevin came in first, and then me, and then Alex.  I ran my race in 31 minutes, my slowest 5K ever.  I don't think Alex and Kevin even timed their race.

It's been a while since I've run such a short race.  I ran the Richmond Half Marathon in November 2014, the Disney Marathon in January of this year, and the Rock 'N Roll Half in March.  Those three races made me never want to run again. I think a 10K might be my sweet spot these days.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

34th Christmas Island Relay

Yesterday morning, Brad dragged me out of bed -- with a text, not a nudge -- to come join him in the 34th Christmas Island Relay. The race starts at the Pacific Islands Club on the south end of the island and stretches to the Last Command Post at the north end of the island. Teams of 5 take turns running mile long stretches along the 13.7 mile course.

We were down a runner thanks to poor babysitting planning, but we still managed to live up to our name: One Metric Ton. Brad, Matt, Max, and I were four of the most out of shape runners lining up for the race. Undaunted, Max readied to run the first leg of the race.

I ran the second leg. After the starting gun, Max dug in for his mile, and the rest of team piled into Brad's car and zoomed off to the first mile marker where I greeted two of my challengers, Kimiko and Natalie.  The first runner pounded in and high-fived his teammate, but Max was nowhere to be seen.  A total of 22 teams were competing.  The first five runners came and went.  Then another five.  And then there he was was.  I got the high five and took off chasing after Kimi and Natalie.  And I caught Natalie before the end of the mile!  Not bad considering the obvious weight and fitness differential between the two of us.

After I tagged Brad he took off for his first mile.  The rest of the team piled back into the car and made our way to the third mile.  Then the fourth.  Fifth.  At six it was my turn to run again.  The energy in the photo below is all for show.  I spent everything I had in my first mile so I could beat Natalie.

And so it went down Beach Road and through American Memorial Park.  I tagged in for my third run somewhere around Tanapag and then tagged back out in front of the Aqua Resort.  Our team was running at roughly the same speed as four other teams:  Kimiko's team of expat women, two teams of Japanese elementary school kids, and a group of Chamorro guys with similar fitness levels to our team plus a very fit Indonesian girl.

The photos I took in front of the old Nikko Hotel (mile marker 11) highlight how our race went.  Brad was finishing his final run (of three) and Matt was beginning his.  We were trailing 2 of the 4 teams mentioned above.  Kimi's team came first.  Look at the intensity!  There were in this race and were not giving up!  They ended up finishing ahead of us.

And look at the face on the Japanese kid as he makes his tag!  He is giving it everything he has, and his teammate is ready to give it his all!  Both teams of elementary school kids would end up beating us, too.

Not One Metric Ton.  We're fat old guys.  At this point we just wanted to finish.  Better go chase that little kid, Matt.

I ran the final leg.  Alright, I'll be honest.  I was responsible for running the last leg and did my best to approximate running. 

The trailing team of elementary school students had passed Brad just before he tagged Matt, but Matt would keep pace, and Max would pass the team over the next two miles.  I had the lead at mile 13, but they overtook me again in the last quarter mile, just before the finish line -- or was it the first quarter mile.  Probably the first.  I was tired.

Towards the finish line Max and Brad hopped out of the car and we crossed the finish line together, with Matt driving.  We joked that our team name could also have been We're Not Last.  Maybe next year.

I took a lot more photos of the race.  You can see them on Facebook.

P.S. It's been a fun week in Saipan and it's quickly coming to an end.  I've basically had two conversations over and over with different people who I have seen in months or years.  The first goes like this, "Hi, Angelo.  Where's Edz?"  The second conversation is about me, "Hi, Angelo.  You're fat!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This is why I'm fat

Rick MacPherson turned me on to Hash House A Go Go, the culmination of centuries of American gluttony served on a breakfast plate.  I went in knowing the dishes were huge and we probably could have shared one meal, but as Edz makes her march towards American citizenship, I thought it important that we both indulge.  I had the chicken & waffles.  And bacon.  Served with a 20 oz. Budweiser.

Edz had the 9 layer eggs benedict.  I'm not sure what all nine layers were, but included were bacon, two scoops of mashed potatoes, and half a chicken.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Olomwaay Father James

A few years ago when the blogs on Saipan were going strong, we thought of a slogan: "There's always something to do in Saipan."  For many that something involves the Catholic church.  It can be novenas, rosaries, feasts, and of course, fundraisers.  There are lots of fundraisers on Saipan.  Buy a raffle ticket?  We're raising money for off-island medical care.  Buy a hot lunch? The team needs airfare for the tournament.  Buy a concert ticket? Father James needs a new roof.

Father James, our newest priest on island -- and a local boy on top of that -- graduated from Mount Carmel in 2007 and was ordained last December.  He's the priest at St. Jude's, where my good friends, the Kaipat Family Singers -- aka the Olomwaay Family Choir -- sing on Sundays.  And yes, his quarters need some fixing.

The Olomwaay Band -- the rock 'n roll identify of the church choir that goes by a similar name -- was the evening's entertainment -- along with my relative Rita Villagomez (she was handing out the raffle prizes).

Speaking of which, in between songs there was a raffle.  Actually, now that I think about it, in between the raffle, there were a few songs.  Is raffling the same as gambling?  No, of course not.  And neither is bingo.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Saipan Lighthouse Loses Its Top

One of the first things I heard when I got back home yesterday was that Typhoon Soudelor had blown the top off the top of the Saipan Lighthouse.  I went to check it out during my first full day and there it was sitting on the ground.  The original top was made of bronze, but that has long since been gone.  I thought the new top was made of concrete.  Apparently it was made of fiberglass.  I'm actually surprised it lasted as long as it did.

The lighthouse is still sad and decrepit looking.  Every time it gets cleaned up, within weeks it is covered in graffiti and litter again.  It looks particularly rough right now.  The structure also seems to be really falling to pieces now.  It should probably be knocked down...

But until that day comes the lighthouse provides some spectacular views on clear days.  With the treeline destroyed from the typhoon, the view is better than it has been in 40 years.

It's been four months since the big typhoon and the damage to the trees is intense.  American Memorial National Park looks like it has been bulldozed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Achieving My Goals

Ten years ago today I wrote a blog about 10 goals that I hoped to achieve in moving to Japan.  Let's take a look and see how I did.

1. Learn Japanese
Fail. I don't speak Japanese.

2. Make enough money to pay my bills and save a little
Success!  I have a 401(k) and an IRA and my bills are all paid on time.  I even have a mortgage!

3. Make some Japanese friends
Success!  When I made this goal I thought I would spend three years in Japan and then move back to the mainland.  I had no idea I'd end up going back to Saipan.  I still keep in touch with some friends from Japan via Facebook and I now have friends and colleagues spanning the globe thanks to my profession.

4. Learn some Japanese recipes
Mild success.  I only stayed in Japan for six months; I could have learned more if I stayed longer.  But in my travels since I've picked up lots of things, including a Filipino wife who teaches me all about the food from her country.

5. Do something resume worthy
Success!  I didn't do anything of note in Japan, but in Saipan I organized the two largest island cleanups the island has ever seen and was the lead advocate for the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.  Since moving to Washington, DC I helped pass a dozen or so domestic shark laws, among other sharky things.

6. Work on a political campaign
When I wrote this I think I meant work on a political campaign in Japan.  That didn't happen, but I ran for mayor of Saipan and lost.

7. Take some great pictures
Success!  Check out my Facebook page for proof.

8. Get my blog traffic up to over 100 hits a day
Success!  At least for a while I was receiving about 1000 hits a day.  I still average about 300 visits per day, which is decent considering how little I blog.  It's mostly people googling things related to Saipan.

9. Visit a few other countries
Success! Here's a list of countries and territories I've visited in the 10 years since setting this goal: Australia,  Bahamas, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cambodia, Chile, Curacao, Federated States of Micronesia (Pohnpei, Yap, and Chuuk), Fiji, Grenada, Guam, Japan,  Laos, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Saba, Samoa, South Korea, St. Maarten, Thailand, Trinidad, Turks & Caicos, and Vietnam.

10. Move on to something lucrative after my adventure in Japan ends
Fail. I make more money today than I did in 2005, but I work in conservation so I wouldn't call it lucrative.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Lost in the Maize

So Edz and I decided to head out to the country this afternoon.  Our destination? The Corn Maze in The Plains.

In addition to the corn maze there are some farm animals, a tractor ride, and lots of pumpkins.  These piglets are where baby back ribs come from.

It's $10 each to get in.  We had a couple of cheeseburgers, checked out the gift shop, and then went to the maze entrance.

The theme this year was sharks!  You couldn't tell from the ground, but from the air the maze was a giant shark.  And there was shark trivia all along the way.

I think we were a little late in the season; most of the corn looked pretty dead.  But I had no idea corn grew so tall!  It was over 10 feet.  I thought it only grew to about half that height.

There were six stations along the way that gave hints on how to navigate the maze.  You didn't really need the hints because it wasn't really that complicated.

You could also make rubbings of the map, which wasn't helpful at all because you had no idea of knowing where in the maze you were.  Well, except most of the corn was dead and you could see right through it and guess the right way.

But yeah, it was a lot of fun.  Except for the mud.

Edz didn't like the mud.

It took us about 30 minutes to navigate our way through.

And at the very end there was this raised bridge where it was fun to watch the people below.

And at the end I got to shoot pumpkins with a giant sling shot.  All in all, a fun afternoon.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Make The Ocean Great Again

One of my friends sent me a story this afternoon about how Donald Trump has spent $678,000 on hats and t-shirts on his campaign to become our next president. The story inspired me. Make America Great Again? How about Make The Ocean Great Again? Yes, you can now be the envy of all your conservation friends for the low, low price of $14.99.

I made a better version using This one is only $24.95, and you have the option of picking the color and style of the hat.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Almost Famous in Fiji

Of Shark and Man Deleted Scenes - Angelo Villagomez Interview from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

About 4 years ago I gave an interview to David Diley for his film Of Shark and Man. I didn't make the final cut of the film -- but I made the website's deleted scene section. Here's what David had to say about it:
Excerpts from an interview in Fiji with professional Shark Conservationist and Marine Sanctuary expert, Angelo Villagomez. The footage and sound is raw from the camera and audio recorder, no grading or post processing on either.

This interview focused upon the issue facing sharks in and around Fiji and the South Pacific. Angelo discusses shark finning, bycatch and the threats to marine eco-systems which arise from overfishing and also the importance to local communities, of protecting these environments.

This interview didn't make it into the final cut mainly because I wanted to focus more on the positive aspects of the shark/human relationship in Fiji and I felt its inclusion would have taken the film down a different path, away from the core themes.
And I'll just add that I no longer work in shark conservation. These days I'm working with grassroots community groups to create marine protected areas.

And I'll also add that this was filmed about a month before I got married. Married life has apparently been hard. I look so young in this video!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Grape Juice, Shepherd's Pie, and Apple Picking

Two weeks ago we had one of our friends from Saipan visit, so we both took a day off in the middle of the week to go exploring northern Virginia.

On the recommendation of a friend, our first stop was Stribling Orchard in Markham, VA.  It took us about an hour to get there once we were out of the city, but it also took us about an hour to get out of the city.

When we got there, we had the whole place practically to ourselves.

The girls were picking for the first time, but I'm an experienced apple picker.  We used to go pick them every fall when we still lived in Massachusetts.  But it must be at least 25 years since the last time...

Between the three of us we picked about 8 pounds.  I have no idea how much it cost though, because Joelin was kind enough to pay for them all.

We also explored the pumpkin patch, but didn't buy one.  The girls haven't caught on to the importance of owning a pumpkin this time of year yet.  They'll get there.

Food options are limited out in the country and a lot of places were closed during the week.  Trip Advisor recommended a place called the Hunter's Head Tavern.

What a great little find!  Who would have expected an English pub out in the middle of the Virginia countryside?  I went for the shepherd's pie and the girls shared the traditional English Buffalo wings and Thai lettuce wraps.

Our next stop was the Oak Barrel Winery.  It's like a little slice of Napa just outside of DC.  I sampled 10 wines for $11 and then had a full glass of chardonnay.  Again, we were the only people there.

The girls don't drink, but were very entertained by this cat.  The cat was not entertained.

There's a new winery down the road called Blue Valley Vineyard and Winery.  We stopped there and I had another tasting.  The girls kept busy with Jill the dog.

Want to see more? I've posted more photos from our day trip to Facebook.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

10 Best Party Songs of All Time

My wife played the S Club 7 classic S Club Party the other day and I got to thinking about all the great songs that help us party. There are some classics, like the Beastie Boys, and then there's the crap, like everything S Club 7 ever did. This is out of character for this blog -- at least for the last 5 years -- but here are the 10 Best Party Songs of All Time -- meaning that I start with good party songs and then the list devolves into crap, finishing with a couple of tunes that make my ears bleed.

10. Fight For Your Right by the Beastie Boys 1987

The greatest party song of all time. It's 30 years old, but just as good as it was when I was 8 -- when I didn't really understand what was going on in the video.

9. Party Up by DMX

Is this the only song DMX ever sang, I mean rapped? About 15 years ago he was going to be the next big thing. Until he wasn't.

8. Party Like a Rock Star by Shop Boyz

This is the anthem for everyone who just got paid.

7. Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO 2011

I learned how to do this dance and got pretty good at it.

6. We Like to Party by Venga Boys 1999

Quick, name your favorite Dutch band! The Venga Boys! This was a college party staple in the late 1990s, along with the Venga Bus is Coming and We're Going to Ibiza. This is the song that made the Barbie Girl song possible -- or was it the other way around?

5. S Club Party by S Club 7 1999

Why? This is the country that gave us the Beatles, for Christ's sake!

4. Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus 2009

Admit it, you like this song.

3. Party All the Time by Eddie Murphy 1985

My 18 year old brother thinks of Eddie Murphy as a voice actor from the Shrek movies. He used to be so much more. This song came out at the height of his popularity. And then he stopped being funny. Coincidence?

2. Party Hard by Andrew W.K. 2001

This would have been the best party song ever -- if it came out in 1987. What were these thrashers still doing hanging around in the 21st Century?

1. Party All Night by Yo Yo Honey Singh

I found this while "researching" party songs (I did a single Google search). And this is why Bollywood hasn't caught on in America.

Wow, you made it to the end? Good for you! Just a note: I wanted to include the Prince Classic 1999, but I couldn't find the video on Youtube, only a crappy karaoke version. What's up with that Prince?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Getting the Band Back Together

Over the last five years I've had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing and dedicated people to protect sharks.

During my travels I collected more than a few passport stamps from Australia, Bahamas, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Chuuk, Curacao, Fiji, Grenada, Guam, Japan, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palau, Philippines, Pohnpei, Saba, Saipan, Samoa, St. Maarten, South Korea, Thailand, Trinidad, Turks &Caicos, and Yap. I was also on the Fiji delegation to CITES, advocated for sharks at four WCPFCs, and helped create the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary over five APILs. Along the way we created a few shark sanctuaries, put in place some shark fin trade bans, and raised the global profile of the need to protect sharks. Also, Kevin Bacon once retweeted me. No. Big. Deal.

Why am I speaking in the past tense? Because it's time for new challenges. And when I say new challenges, I mean old challenges. I'm going back to my old job creating large marine protected areas. You remember the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument? I'll be doing stuff like that.

But before I hop over to new things, let's look back at sharks for just a few more minutes -- then we'll look forward. Want to see my very last presentation as a shark conservationist? I was in Bonaire last month and gave a public talk on shark sanctuaries to a crowd organized by STINAPA, DCNA, and CIEE Bonaire. All I can say is, my god do I hate the sound of my own voice. In my defense, this was late in the day and I had sat in a conference room all day.

I also talked to the Speak Up for Blue Podcast many, many months ago.  The podcast was published a few weeks ago. I talk about myself a little bit in this one and maybe you'll get to know something about me you didn't previously know (if that interests you).

Monday, August 24, 2015

Happy Hour Views

I snapped a few photos from our new porch today. These are some of the things I look at as I drink my morning coffee.

The Washington Monument is the tallest structure in Washington, DC.  We went to the top a few days ago and could see our house.  That's pretty cool.

This isn't a statue of R2-D2, it's the top of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

And this is the top of the Lincoln Memorial.  Man, I wish they'd cut down all those trees.  Just kidding.

I have a decent view of Robert E. Lee's old house and parts of Arlington Cemetery.

And right across the street is the Arena Stage.

My only complaint is that with the $2 billion construction taking place along the waterfront we've lost most of our river view.  We still have this small slice of water, with the Pentagon and Airforce Memorial behind it.  If you want to come over, I serve freshly brewed coffee in the morning and beer in the afternoons!

Sunsets aren't exactly terrible.