Saturday, August 1, 2015

Living my Childhood Dream

     I know I said I was going to keep writing about Italy since I plan on laying low for the rest of the summer, but Maryland is low-key pretty cool, so I thought I'd dedicate one post to my home state. This week has been extremely relaxing for me, since I have been spending time at our vacation home in Ocean City, Maryland. The fact that I can get away with being outside and on the water without talking to anybody for a whole day is a nice break from the real world. Maryland is one of those states that everyone's heard of but no one pays attention to, and that's okay with me because it's a nice place to fall back on every time I get tired of the city.
     Even though our house is in Ocean City, my favorite place to visit while I'm here has always been Asateague Island. Compared to Ocean City, Asateague is a relatively quiet beach that people don't usually frequent. The sand feels more natural because it hasn't been pumped, the sand dunes aren't filled with litter and, most importantly, the wildlife is all over (and, no, wildlife doesn't mean the eclectic individuals you can find on the Ocean City Boardwalk).
     Asateague is known for their beautiful population of 150 wild horses that surround the beaches and marshlands of the island. Since Asateague is only allowed to have a population of 150 horses at a time, a pony swim is held once a year to move the extra ponies from the Virginia side of Asateague to the nearby island, Chincoteague Island. This beautiful tradition is one thing that Virginia is known for, and it has even caught the eye of authors and movie producers. If you're interested, you should check out the film Misty of Chincoteague (based on the book), a childhood favorite of mine that captures the tradition of the pony swim.
     On Asateague Island, the horses are rounded up by the Saltwater Cowboys, who are in charge of rounding up the horses and taking them across the Asateague Channel by horseback. The Saltwater Cowboys are usually local firemen that have been part of the tradition most of their lives. The swim lasts about three minutes, and it happens during a "slack calm" in the tide so that the young ones are safe to swim. Hundreds of horses make the swim each year, and once they arrive to Chincoteague, they are herded into a massive pen, checked out by vets, fed and kept until the next morning, where the foals and yearlings will be auctioned off to new homes. The rest of the ponies are hearded back across the water the next day after the auction. This tradition has been happening each year since 1925, so the swim is rich in culture and deeply loved by the residents of Chincoteague Island.
     Since crowds wait for hours to watch the mere three minute pony swim, my parents decided to wait until my sister and I were older to finally take us. My sister couldn't make it to the beach this year because of her summer internship, so we all decided to wait until next year to wake up at 4 am to catch the swim. We did, however, go to the Annual Fireman's Carnival that happens the night of the pony swim. My dad used to go every year when he was younger, so he was very excited to take my mom and me. The carnival was straight from the 1950s. To put things in perspective, there was a massive bingo tent where bingo was still played on individual wooden blocks. This added to the charm of the small carnival and made playing the old fashioned games even more fun. The ring toss, for example, was a bunch of glass bottles lined up in a large tent, and you were given a large bucket of rings to throw. Around 15 people were playing at once, and the guys running the game had to walk through the space with giant brooms to sweep the rings off the floor and back into the buckets. Rings were flying everywhere, and I may or may not have hit one of the workers in the face a few times.
     While we had a great time playing the games and getting to know the locals (I swear we were the only people there from out of town), the best part of the carnival was the homemade food. As you may know, Maryland is most famous for our seafood, especially for our Maryland blue crab and Old Bay crab spice. Needless to say, the crab cakes were incredible, and super fresh. My dad's favorite is the Chincoteague Oyster Fritter Sandwich, which the island has been making ever since he can remember. The sandwich is made by taking a handful of Chincoteague oysters, pouring fritter batter over them and sicking the massive fritter in the fryer. They come out extremely hot and gooey. My dad was happy to say it was the same exact sandwich he used to enjoy as a kid 40 years ago. Another fun food we tried were the Pony Fries, another staple at the carnival. We found out about these from a mother telling us her son was back there cutting the potatoes for the delicious fries. Every food item at the carnival was homemade, including the caramel corn where you could watch them pour the hot caramel over the popcorn.
     My favorite part of the whole experience, though, was going to watch the horses in their pen nearby the carnival. Seeing the herds of horses was beautiful. I was especially impressed with all of the foals that made the swim over. There was rumored to be a newborn born the day before the swim that made it across with is mother.
     Overall, we had an amazing time at the carnival, and we plan on doing the whole day next year, including the swim. I told my parents they can''t take me to the auction, though, because I'll leave with a foal. I'm glad I finally got a chance to go to the carnival after 21 years of waiting. I hope I get to go for many more years after this! Now I'm off to go eat some more crabs :)

Making friends with a wild pony on Asateague Island the day before the swim. 

Entrance to the carnival. "In Memory of Surfer Dude" refers to the stallion that passed away this year. The town is currently in a state of mourning because this is the last year you can purchase one of Surfer Dude's foals. RIP Surfer Dude. 

Cowboy boots on sale at the carnival's riding store. This made me wish I still had my horse!!

The infamous oyster fritter sandwich. Crazy good. 

1 comment:

  1. Ocean City is the best! I went with my family for a couple of summers when I was young. Also probably a great place to be after being in crazy Europe for a couple of weeks... so relaxing! And hey, if you can't be in Europe for the rest of the summer at least you can be by the beach. That is definitely something I am going to miss considering I spent the last two summers in California! Enjoy your time at home!