From Tobaggan Parties to Bringing a Surf Resort to Nicaragua

From Tobaggan Parties to Bringing a Surf Resort to Nicaragua
In July 2015, the CEO of Wanderful, Beth Santos, connected me with Casey and Bill Morton, owners of Soma Surf Resort in Popoyo, Nicaragua, where I would go on my first press trip.

Soma means “South of Managua”, and it is quite the opposite of the mountainous region of Matagalpa that I call home. I headed to Soma to capture the spirit of this amazing place, and walked away with a new appreciation of surfing. I had never been to a surf resort. I felt vulnerable.

Just as I quickly learned to stand up on a surf board, I learned that you don’t have to surf to enjoy a surf resort.
Soma offers something for everyone, whether you enjoy taking a yoga class or sipping watermelon mint coolers by an infinity pool. Soma is a place that makes visitors disconnect with the stressors of the workplace. There are no televisions in the rooms, coaxing guests to socialize with one another over shared meals after exhilarating surf sessions.
Casey and Bill Morton both grew from vulnerable travel. I interviewed them to find out more about what made them leave the comforts of their from their small town, to moving to California, to opening up a Surf Resort in Nicaragua. Find out what travel was like for them, and how it’s changed.
A Cowboy burger with blue cheese and vodka watermelon mint cooler.
A Cowboy burger with blue cheese and vodka watermelon mint cooler.

Where are you both from originally?

Casey: We are from West Seneca, NY, outside Buffallo. It was a very small, tight knit community. It was always freezing cold, but we never let the weather get in the way. We would go to “Toboggan parties” with our friends.

How did you meet?

Bill: We were high school sweethearts. I was on the basketball team. Casey was a cheerleader. We met at a Christmas party. Casey had gone with my friend Steve, but then he got sick at the party. So, I  asked him if I could take her home. We sat and talked on her stoop, and we went on eight dates before we went steady. The day Steve puked was the luckiest day of my life. We’ve been together for 45 years and married for 40 years.
It was 1970, and men were getting drafted to go to Vietnam. I had a higher lottery number, 256, so I wasn’t as worried about getting drafted. We went to a public school, so our friends were getting drafted right and left. I was learning how to sow and cook with the girls in home economics class, and the boys were in wood shop class. Could you imagine sitting in one of those classes, waiting to be called? That’s how it was for us.
Some of our friends went to Canada. Nixon eventually pardoned them. It was the only war where soldiers went and returned to protest. The protested on college campuses and in DC. Jane Fonda even came to speak at our progressive Jesuit college. It was a politically active time! Now, you don’t really see veterans protesting. It’s insane that at 18, you could be sent to war, but you couldn’t drink or vote.
There was an external political dynamic going on. There were riots on Detroit. Our parents on the other hand, were just happy to have a solid job, a car, and a dog. Then in 15 years, everyone questioned everything.

Do you remember your first flight? How did you feel?

“We had both flown before in college, but the morning after our wedding, we boarded our plane to LA. We were the first people out of our class of 120 to leave. It was a blue collar town in the rest belt of America. Car part plants were closing, and we knew we had to leave.
Casey was a queen. She cried as soon as we sat down on the plane. The airplane staff asked if she was okay, then the pilot told her to control herself. I just thought “Does anyone have some Valium?”
Casey: I was bawling, thinking “What have I just done? Have I lost my mind?”
Bill: Soon enough, the fear stopped. We found strength in ourselves and each other.  We both had an adventurous spirit. We had to focus on paying the bills, so we went job searching.
Casey: The LA employment office listed jobs on index cards on peg boards
Char: like the coupons at grocery store entrances?!
Casey: Yes! I had a degree in Sociology, and I went into Marketing. I found a job posting for Halston in the LA Times. I was one of 300 applicants. My interviewer asked me to meet him at his house, but I refused. So, he interviewed me at Hamburger Hamlet. I got the job.
Char: What made him pick you out of 300 applicants?
Casey: I stood out because of my passion. I was hungry for work.
Bill: The move to LA strengthened our relationship. We raised each other. This move formulated our move to Nicaragua. 

 

Casey and I during my first press trip.
Casey and I during my first press trip.

Where else have you lived?

Casey: We moved around because of my job. We lived in Laguna Beach for 17 years, then we moved to San Francisco where I did marketing for Calvin Klein. Bill worked in schools as a speech pathologist.

What did your loved ones think about your travels?

Bill: My mom didn’t speak to us for five years after we left New York. In her Polish culture, she was used to living in a tight knit family. Leaving wasn’t an option. She was angry at me, and took it personally. We reconciled eventually.
Casey: My dad was sad to see us go, but he said “It’s your life. It’s what we raised you for, and we’re here to support you.”
Bill: our friends thought we were crazy. They visited sometimes, but we changed in a different way. We moved around, but we had the choice to.

How do you think your son, Bill, perceives living abroad?

Casey: Billy has been traveling since he was nine months old. He went to Indonesia and Java when he was five, and Macchu Picchu at seven.
Bill: I remember when Billy was nine and we were hiking the half dome in Yosemite. All of a sudden, he stopped and yelled “Why can’t we just go to Disney? Why do we have to do all this hard shit?” I said “It’s just a little farther. Once we got to the top, everyone there clapped for him.
Casey: Billy has always been at ease going places. He could be anywhere, whether it’s the Ritz Carlton or a village. Traveling gave him early exposure to different lifestyles and religions. He understood that people could be Christian or Jewish, and that it was okay to be gay. Once, we had friends who were a gay couple come over. “Why does one of them wear a skirt?” Billy asked. I just said “It’s because they want to.” And Billy would just say “Okay.” Billy is still pretty traditional in some ways . He takes his grandma to church.

How do you think social media has framed how we view travel?

Casey: People travel more now. We are more connected and can google anything. This makes the world easier to access. Back then though, we were more adventurous. We had outdated guidebooks. There was more of the unknown. I remember going to Africa alone for work. I bought a ticket through the newspaper. When I got to the airport in Paris, the FBI was waiting for me. It was a forged ticket! I had to repurchase my ticket and get my attorney on board. I went to Tanzania anyway, and climbed Kilamanjaro. 

Bill: Surfing was also different back then. We used to meet at 6 AM and go look at the waves. There were no “surf cameras” so it was more exciting. There was more of a “renegade surfer attitude”. We might have spent three hours looking for the right waves, then ended up at In & Out. We would say things like “Let’s go to Costa Rica and figure it out.”

Where in the world are you now? Where will you go next?

Bill: Ideally, we would keep this place. We have a unique product. At the same time though, we’d like to spend more time back home. Both of our moms are about 90 years old. Billy is probably going to get married and have kids.
Casey: The point is that there is nothing for us to do there. We’re in our 60’s. What could we do? In the U.S., there’s not a place for older people. They’re neglected in the workforce, but their talent is untapped. In Nicaragua, elders are respected and cared for. Since the 2008 stock market crash happened, we know people who lost their jobs and ended up unemployed. In Nicaragua, the cost of living is low. There’s decent health care and interesting people.
Bill: At Soma, we’ve always been a step ahead. We were the first folks here to offer surf lessons. I came here on a surfing trip with Billy, and someone casually mentioned that this property was for sale. When I came back a year later, the price has dropped. The area was rustic and plain, but I knew that it was on the verge of exploding.

Casey and Bill show that traveling is worth the risk taking. As travelers, it was worth placing themselves in a vulnerable situation, because they eventually realized the potential in their travel plans.

They left what they knew behind and supported one another as travelers in order to make their dream of opening up a boutique surf resort a reality.
Stay tuned for a behind the scenese look at Soma’s restaurant!
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Travel Throwback: Susie’s Travels From Australia to Qatar

I want to learn from women who traveled before my millenial generation took the social media world by storm. Women traveled before people announced their engagements on facebook statuses and used selfie sticks to prove where they’ve been. What were their fears? How did they discover the world and themselves?

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Susie with her daughter, Lauren, at Yosemite National Park.

Here is fellow Wellesley Alum Susie Billings‘ story.

1. Where are you and your family from originally? Where have they been and why?

My dad only ever “lived abroad” when he was stationed in England during WWII. He never got his three day pass to London, as his plane was shot down, and then he was a prisoner of war in Germany. He passed through the Paris rail yards on his return home. When I was 11, we made a trip to London and later to Paris as he wanted to see the places he didn’t get to see. They took me when I was young, as I traveled on a child’s fare on the airplane, and they hoped I would be old enough to remember.

My dad’s family traces its history to the Mayflower and I qualify through his side to be a “daughter of the American Revolution”. My mum was 5th generation Australian – originally from Britain but post convict era. My mum had a major tragedy just before she was 17- her father was murdered and the guy tried to get my mum and her mum too, but was unsuccessful.

I believe this was her major impetus to “get away”.

When she was 20, she had moved to the opposite side of the country, to West Australia (she is from Melbourne), but she came home to celebrate her 21st birthday. A couple years later she and a friend (who is now my mother in law) went to work in New Zealand. A few years after that she moved to London and worked there to find travels around Europe. I know a few of her friends did similar things. It was very common for Australians to travel to the UK and then travel around Europe before returning home to marry and have families. All Australians travelled on British passports until 1967, I think.

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Paris, the Sunday after the November attack. Photo by Susie Billings.

2. Did Wellesley College influence you to travel at all? What was it like going there for you?

Wellesley didn’t influence me to travel as I already had the travel bug. I had grown up in California so the climate of Boston was a big shock, needed a new wardrobe and did call come pretty regularly but really wanted to get away from where I grew up. I had always said I appreciated where I grew up, but it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to live.

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Rice fields of Vietnam. Photo by Susie Billings.

3. What did your loved ones think about your mom traveling? What did they think about you traveling?

I know my mum’s sister moved around Australia due to her husband’s job and my mum was overseas so I know my mum’s mum was sad she was away. I think it was understood that she wasn’t settled anywhere – she didn’t meet my dad or get married until she was 33. She had me at 36.

My parents always encouraged me to travel and they were able to help fund it when I was younger. However, none of my friends traveled, and we were considered very unusual. In fact, we often didn’t say much about our travels as there was some jealously about us traveling. On the other hand, other people had fancy cars and bought bigger houses, fancy TVs, and sound systems. We had second hand cars and stayed in the same subdivision house as our funds went towards travel.

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“We had second hand cars and stayed in the same subdivision house as our funds went toward travel” Photo of Venice by Susie Billings.

4. What was it like staying in touch with loved ones thousands of miles away?

Calls home to my mum’s family when I was a kid were for three minutes at Christmas. The line used to beep so you knew your three minutes were up. Otherwise, we called only for emergencies or major news. Sometimes cassettes would be recorded and sent in the post.

We would get a half hour news reel of what is going on in our loved ones’ lives.

We sent the annual Christmas letter to everyone “back home” so they would know what was going on in our lives. We filled every square inch of airletters – really fine paper that folded over so there was no envelope to make the airmail postage as inexpensive as possible. And we always did gifts and Christmas letters early so they could do the international portion by sea mail. That way, it was much, much cheaper!

My now husband and I have a stack of letters we wrote to each other over 18 months of our long distance relationship. We sometimes wrote four page letters as we knew it would be several weeks between exchanges of letters.

I recently ran across a letter from my mum’s mum to my mum berating her for not keeping up her correspondence!

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Bryce Canyon. Photo by Susie Billings.

5. Some people say that people traveled as much back then as they do now. We just make a bigger deal about it now with social media. How do you think social media has framed how we view travel today?

I don’t think people travelled as much at all. We would save for years and years to travel to Australia for special occasions. Dad would bank his holiday time and we would have to travel with lots and lots of stopovers. We lived in the Sacramento area and we would have to fly first to LA, then to Hawaii, then to Fiji, then to Sydney, and then to Melbourne. It was very time consuming and costly.

Today you can fly non- stop from San Francisco to Sydney in under 14 hours – the same journey used to take closer to 24. Also, with the advent of much more competition with international flights, frequent flyer programmes, and budget airlines, relative prices are so much cheaper.

In fact, overseas travel was so uncommon that people would hold slide nights at their homes to share their experiences with their friends!

There weren’t web sites to google- only some picture books at a store or library. I have an ongoing project of going through both my parents and grandparents slides. They are labeled in cartridges and I remember pulling down slide projection screens mounted in some people’s homes.

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“Overseas travel was so uncommon that people would hold slide nights at their homes to share their experiences with friends!” Photo of London by Susie Billings.

6. Do you remember your first flight? How did you feel?

I don’t remember my first flight, as I was two. My mum took me to Australia for the first time to meet her family. To save money, my dad didn’t come. My mum was so proud I was “potty trained,” but then when I had to use the airplane bathroom (which makes a VERY loud sucking sound when you flush), apparently all that training went out the window- much to her dismay.

7. Traveling has become pretty normal for you. I’m the first in my immigrant Mexican family to move and live abroad by choice and not necessity. Did you face pushback for leaving home?

Not from my family, since my mother had already done it herself. But, I still have family friends in California asking when will I move back home, even though I left in 1986!

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A balancing act in Vietnam. Photo by Susie Billings.

8. How and why were you able to travel so much?

Initially support from family until I was 20 – for family trips and a religious camp and school trips, then I prioritised savings and lived fairly minimally so could continue to travel. Also, worked for an international company so I took advantage of lots of business travel. Other than my initial self-funded move to Australia after graduation, the rest of the moves have been on a company’s dime. I have stayed in a lot of youth hostels – even now in my late 40’s, I have been known to stay in a hostel from time to time and have a favorite one star hotel in Paris that we have stayed in when we took the Eurostar from London. I believe more in traveling for the experience, than for the luxury. I’ve also developed a broad network of people who host us.

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Scuba diving in The Great Barrier Reef! Photo by Susie Billings.

9. Where are you now? What’s next?

I am kind of in two places at the moment. I have lived with my husband and two kids in Qatar for over 8 years. He has a great job and they are in a good school, but I was treading water. I am now in London for an academic year doing another masters and visiting “home in Qatar” when possible. I also use Skype/FaceTime iMessage to stay in touch with my family’s daily life. We have a bank of air miles (my husband travels a lot for work) so I am hoping to go home once a month. We may be in Qatar for another six years to get our kids through high school, but we never know for sure.We also don’t know for sure where we will end up or where we will go next.

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On Safari with Brett, Lachlan, and Lauren in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo by Susie Billings.
Traveling (and then working abroad) has been very enriching for us intellectually, socially, financially.

We got one of Hotmail’s first “free” email addresses back in 1996. In those days, you had to have subscriptions with a service provider like AOL. That way, we kept in touch with family and friends while we backpacked around the world for about 9 months in 1997. There were no cell phones to travel with then, and we would drop into Internet cafés every couple of weeks and send a long note to let people know we were still alive.

Given how I hover over my own kids now, and how I want them to text me back immediately, I am amazed at how relaxed my parents were about me traveling like that.

Lastly, I remember in my first job out of college in Melbourne, Australia, where I met colleagues who were originally from England, who had migrated to Australia, and had never returned. Airline travel was really a major expense and families from Melbourne would road trip 16 hours up to Queensland for their holidays with packed lunches. My husband, who is from Australia, didn’t travel on an airplane until he was in his late teens. Most Australians “did Europe” once in their early twenties and then maybe traveled overseas when they retired. Now with cheap airfares tons go to Bali or Hong Kong. Sometimes now it is still cheaper to travel overseas from Australia than to fly within Australia!

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More than just a bird’s eye view of Doha, Qatar. Photo by Susie Billings.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Susie!

Want to read more “Travel Before Facebook” stories? Check out my Wanderful column! I interview Barbara Bergin, whose grandmother traveled the world on freighters.

Mickie Post: From New York City to a New York Farm

I want to learn from women who traveled before my millenial generation took the social media world by storm. Women traveled before people announced their engagements on facebook statuses and used selfie sticks to prove where they’ve been. What were their fears? How did they discover the world and themselves?

Here is my first “Travelers Before Facebook” interview with Dominican-born Miguelina “Mickie” Cuevas-Post, who served in the Peace Corps in Jamaica from 1976-1978, and in Belize from 2011-2013. Enjoy!

1. Where are you and your family from originally? Where have they traveled?

I was born in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic (D.R.). My mother first visited the U.S. in the 1950’s. From our maternal side, we seem to have inherited wanderlust. My great-grandmother was a Spaniard. My mother referred to her as “Isleña”, which was interpreted to mean she was born in the Canary Islands. We know nothing else about her. My grandmother moved from La Vega, D.R., to Santo Domingo. My mother decided that the family should move to the U.S. and my father reluctantly agreed.

I moved to Central NY; Our family have set roots across the U.S. and various countries: D.R., Chile, Puerto Rico, Bahrain, and Spain.

My mother loved to travel, and visited places like Spain, Czechoslovakia, Israel, and Mexico, but most of her travels occurred in the late 70’s and 80’s. My travels, besides those countries in which I served as a Peace Corps (PC) Volunteer, include western Europe, P.R., Mexico, Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands, and various U.S. states, including Alaska and Hawaii. I taught in NYC before I joined the PC.

I took a leave of absence to serve in Jamaica. However, the course of my life changed in the first 3 months after arriving in country – meeting and marrying another PCV from Scipio, NY.

I went from being city born and bred, to living on a farm. PC service prepared me for that change.

Mickie's Jamaican Wedding Day
Mickie’s Wedding Day. Kingston, Jamaica. 1976. Photo by Mickie Post.

2. Why did you choose to serve in the Peace Corps?

A friend picked up the PC application at my request. The thought of serving was first planted while sitting in a high school English class. Our teacher, Mrs. Bush, invited some young volunteers. What they had to say must have made an impression.

Fast forward about 10 years, and I found myself as a PCV in Jamaica, where I met my husband. We married and had our first child, Christina. After raising our children, we decided to apply to the PC once again and served in Belize. I remained after Close of Service to work as a PCV Leader. I returned to the U.S. after swearing in of the new group. They just completed service this month!

3. What did your loved ones think of your travels?

Everyone was very supportive. Only silent reluctance was later expressed by the person I was dating at the time. My family was proud when I joined the PC. There was much more concern and disapproval (primarily from my mother ) when I decided to get my own apartment after college, at 24.

In Hispanic families, females did not typically leave the home to live on their own, or go away to attend college.

London. Photo by Mickie Post.
London. Photo by Mickie Post.

4. How do you think your daughter Rachel (Current PC Response Georgia Volunteer) perceives traveling because of you?

Rachel visited us in Belize. Our children have always been aware of service, met other RPCVs, and heard our stories.

Our children know that service is not always what one expects. There could be many frustrating moments-that patience is a must, and that it can be a most rewarding experience!

Jamaica was not easy, but our service experience was such that we were ready to serve again. PC is indeed the toughest job you’d ever love, and it changes our lives (literally and figuratively).

In Jamaica, Waiting for a mini van. Photo by Mickie Post.
In Jamaica, Waiting for a mini van. Photo by Mickie Post.

5. People say we make a bigger deal about travel now than we did back then. How has social media framed how we view travel today?

If by, “back then”, you mean the 70’s and 80’s, the answer is yes! I had travelled to Europe, the Caribbean, and Hawaii before joining PC. We did not have social media to publicize our travels. Traveling “back then” was more related to where people lived.

Economic status and education were also more significant factors in predicting who traveled. During my freshman year at NYU, classmates would talk talk about their trips to Europe and places considered more exotic at the time, such as Russia.

In Jamaica, we could only communicate via telegraph in an emergency- even with the PC office in Kingston. We had no phone (cell phones did not exist, and the public phone, when available, didn’t work). There were no computers, so social media did not exist. Internet was a long way from its creation.

We travelled by mini-van, and either arranged to stay with a volunteer overnight, or had to return before the mini busses stopped running.

Our second tour as PC volunteers was completely different. We all communicated via email and Facebook, so information was shared instantaneously.

Pictures could be shared right away; one’s excitement, disappointments and requests could be disseminated quickly.

We were never too far from home. Our volunteer friends from Belize and Jamaica travelled a great deal, during and following completion of service. By their very nature, PCVs are travelers.

6. Do you remember your first flight?

I was 12 when I flew from Santo Domingo to Puerto Rico, on my way to NYC. I must have been very nervous, and afraid to get sick. I was full of excitement and trepidation. I spoke no English. My sister and I sat next to friends from the neighborhood, but I was not aware (due to nerves) until much later, when I realized they were our traveling companions.

7. Where in the world are you now? Where will you go next?

I’m back in Scipio, hoping to travel to Italy, Spain, and Greece next spring. I still consider applying for a PC response position somewhere in Latin America.

8. Any last thoughts?

Travel light. Keep a journal. Take photos. Be cautious, patient, and open-minded.

Mickie.

This post is also featured on Travel Latina.

Mickie and Ken's Peace Corps Wedding in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Mickie Post.
Mickie and Ken’s Wedding. Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Mickie Post.