Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vacation madness

So I went on this vacation thingy.

First the twin and I drove to Milwaukee. Then we got on a plane (run by a terrible airline which I recommend avoiding), and flew to Atlanta. Then we ran across the Atlanta airport and got on another plan and flew to San Juan. In San Juan we rented a car and drove all over the ghetto looking for the fancy hotel for our conference, thanks to the inefficacy of Google maps (or any map, really, when it comes to Puerto Rico). Several hours and a number of phone calls later, we made it to the hotel and collapsed into exhaustion in our really nice hotel room.

The next day we wandered around ineffectually until we found a beach. It is unnamed on any map I have been able to find, but it was named there in PR. Go figure. It seems very much like the island to have a perfectly serviceable beach in a tourist area with no indication outside of actually being there that it exists at all. We swam for about 3.5 hours, stopping for sunscreen and to kick at pigeons, and didn't even come out during the brief rain (rain+ocean=wet). As we went back to the hotel to check in for our conference, we realized we were really burnt. The registration time was only for another 30 minutes, so we went and registered in our swimsuits and towels. It was funny because all of the other folks there were in a big group and wearing nice suits or at the least business casual. And we were burned and smelling of the ocean. Ah well.

After registration we showered and changed and went to dinner. We split up and met different folks. I met Ramon and Regina, both of whom were very nice. After the dinner and the speeches and presentations, a Puerto Rican dance group came and explained some of the history of the island a performed a variety of dances. They danced the Plena, Seis, Danza (a slower, waltz-like dance), and my favorite, La Bomba, a dance that grew out of the influence of African slaves on the island. It has drummers and dancers, and the drummers respond to the dancers' movements in different ways. At the end they had about 70% of this room dancing and clapping with them, in a long line throughout the space. It was great, and completely unexpected.

Later that night Kristen retired, but they had sponsored a dance on a boat that took us out and around the bay. I danced for a few hours with McNair Scholars from all over Puerto Rico and the rest of the States. As groups go they were hesitant, but my slip-hop impressed them enough to work into the inside of some serious circles, and Ramon and Regina insisted on teaching me to dance to salsa rhythms, which I have learned are fun.

The next day the twin and I found breakfast at La Bombanera, a local place with great food and delicious-looking bakery. I worked on my presentation and did a bunch of errands that afternoon. That evening we wandered around Old San Juan and shopped a bit, and then met up with the group to check out this great graphic art show, called the 2da Trienal Poli/Gráfica de San Juan - América Latina y el Caribe. It was phenomenal. As you can see from the website there was a lot of great stuff. A show on violence, one on money, a lot of great critical work there. I'm still taking it all in, but the end of it was a lot of participant-based art work. I got to leave an etching, and I chose for mine to say "A veces ha perdido mi pedazo de la revolucion en todo el silencio." Or something very much like that. The grammar seems wrong now, but it seemed right while I was surrounded by Spanish. That night I should have worked more on my presentation (I stole the compu from Kristen to do it), but I ended up going to bed early. The next morning I got up at 7 and finished my presentation, which I gave at 10. Kristen's poster was from 8-10, so I missed that (sad face), but she said she didn't mind. My presentation was small, but several people attended to hear me and said they liked it and asked lots of questions, so I feel like it was successful. Which is good.

That afternoon, we trekked over the El Yunque, the only US National Forest that is also a rainforest. We hiked all over the park, but it was very rainy (well, ok, should have seen that one coming), so we didn't get many pictures on the new camera I bought on the way (the cheapest one that Kmart offered...but it works very nicely), and left earlier than I would have liked. Here are a few shots of the rain forest. I wish I would have gotten more. That evening we planned on swimming in the pool and finishing up any errands that required the internet. The internet was only available at the pool, not in our rooms, so imagine our disappointment when we went to the pool and found that it was locked due to the weather. We spent the evening on a bench in the ladies locker room next to the pool, freezing and giggling and emailing 101 places in New York and telling them they had to call me because I wouldn't have internet for the next few days.

The next morning we finished up with the internets, packed up and checked out. We grabbed breakfast and pastries at the same cute joint, and then trekked around Old San Juan souvenier-shopping (yes, Jessi, I have a little something for you that I think you might like) and looking at the beautiful architecture. In the afternoon, we almost got attacked by pigeons and went to see the Bodies exhibit, which was awesome, but not for those with weak stomachs. We had a late lunch at a great Caribbean place called Raices, and finally headed out of town. We drove through to Arecibo and stopped at a place that Kristen remembered from last summer, and drove the last few hours in the dark to our hostel. It was good that we had called ahead, because the office closed at 8 and they had to hide our keys somewhere since we were arriving late. The hostel room was very nice: our own beds, air conditioning, our own bathroom, and a lock on the door: what else could you want for $25/person/night. The service was great and we only had another person in our room for 2 of the 4 nights. Her name was Vivia and she was hiking and surfing her way around the island. And she didn't complain about the snoring at all.

The next day we went to Strella beach for a walk, but it seemed too steep and rough to swim. Then we went to a secret beach that Kristen knows about and swam around a lot. We also checked out some neat sink holes that she knew of from last summer. We had roasted pig and coco frio (a coconut hacked open and the milk diluted with cold water. It was delicious and enormous. We have many ridiculous pictures of this silly thing.

That night we drove to La Parguera (off of Lajas), just like last year, and visited the bioluminescent bay. This time we didn't get nearly as lost, and the trip was so much fun, just like last time. The small town that always seems to be having a huge festival, the $6 boat ride tickets, the improvised parking, the crowds of people of all ages, the food and the crafts and the beer, waiting in line with hundreds of people and their annoying children, everyone happy, or drunk, or excited, the boat appearing out of the darkness, the rapidity of everyone pouring on, the colors! the contemplative boat ride in the warm air with some stars peeking through, the lonely quietness of leaving the shore behind, the islands rising ominously in the dark, the tiny stars flying by under the water, the quick turn and the cut of the engine and the lights, the rushed and mumbled spanish description of the bay, the bucket of water with its pinpricks of light, the delighted children, and suddenly the splash of the crew jumping in and the roar of the crowd as they see his ghostly outline in the water, so softly bright and so ephemeral, the suspense and aching anticipation suddenly rushing to a head in flat out wonder. The desire and fear of the dark water lit with soft, sudden lights. And then dropping ladder and clambering wet seamen, the applause, the screamingly loud engine after the silent awe, the rushing spraying force driving you back to the reality, to others, to less wonderous and more bright things.

This is the one bit I don't even try to capture on film. It's impossible.

We coast back to Rincon high on caffeine and an undefinable joy, and are rocked to sleep by the waves.

What else is there? More beaches, the joy and pain of snorkeling for hours, going out far further than we would dare alone and burning all along our legs and backs. Driving around the whole island and getting stuck in the heights of Yuco, stopping for scenic shots throughout the mountains, getting eaten alive by mosquitos and rediscovering Kristen's glasses at the least ocean-y ocean I've ever been in. Seeing hundreds of beautiful fish and sea urchins and shrimp and skittering crawling swimming beautiful things. The absolute animosity I harbor for Delta (I encourage everyone to boycott Delta and NWA, if possible, and fly with anyone else) after they lied about check-in time and made me buy a new ticket.

There's so much more: staying with Avi's amazingley artistic grandparents in NY, apartment hunting, meeting the very cool guy that I almost subletted an apartment from and talking about housing politics in NYC with him. All the weird and awesome co-opers at Ganas. The S.I. Ferry and the housing office at CUNY and riding the train all over Queens and the fabulous Spanish bakery that I will force my the one sister that really likes baked goods to go to. Wondering lost in Jackson Heights and being assisted by Catholic school children. All the art and people and public transportation I could want...I am so excited to move there, even though I will miss my home.

Photos to come, once I fix the camera situation.