Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Life Update

I’ve realized that most of my recent posts have been about travel, people visiting me, or big events.  I think it’s time for a basic update on my life.  So here’s the news since Christmas. 

·         This semester, I started tutoring a 10th grade student in English, 2 nights a week.  He speaks very little English, which was the main thing holding him back in the class.  I do my best to translate/summarize each of the piece of literature he reads in class into Spanish and make sure he understands the plot of each.  I’m not sure if it’s the best method to take, but it helped him pass the first test, at least. 

·         Our mouse problem from the beginning of January seems to have more or less gone away.  Or they’ve just become much sneakier.  Either way, we haven’t seen or caught one in over a month, and that’s just fine with me. 

·         As far as school goes, in 8th grade I’ve been teaching a poetry unit (which has been really fun), and in 7th grade I’ve been finishing up a research unit (which has not been really fun).  3rd quarter ends next Friday (whoa!), and I am excited for 4th quarter in both grades, because it brings a novel for 8th grade and a drama unit for 7th.

·         On our street, we girls have been having the curse of car trouble…except for me, making me the official driver to school each morning.  Kelsey’s car broke down back over Thanksgiving, and the mechanic has had it now for almost 2 months.  Latest update is that it’s running, but awaiting final touches.  Jenni’s car is also with a mechanic, because she was in a minor accident last weekend.  No people hurt, which is the important thing. 
However, the end is in sight, and hopefully both cars will be fixed by the end of this week.  I almost can’t imagine having 3 cars for 4 people again!!

·         January was Puerto Rico’s “winter” and every afternoon was beautifully cool.  Maybe it’s just me…but I feel like it’s starting to get hotter again.  Also, the weather has been very dry.  The hillsides (and roadsides) have been burning in spontaneous brush fires continuously since January.  Last week there was a big fire on one of the hills behind Walmart.  You could see the flames and pillar of ugly brown smoke for miles.  I’m looking forward to the rainy season, when the hills turn green again.

·         Other things I’m looking forward to:

o   My sister Liz comes to visit me in 9 days!
o   Over spring break in April, 4 of us are taking a 7 day cruise leaving out of San Juan.
o   In July, I’m going to Peru!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fabled Voyage

When I (and I think most of the other American teachers can say the same) was offered my job here, one of the “perks” the school director described was a daytrip for the American teachers on the director’s boat.  Mr. Delgado painted a vivid picture of how he would fill the boat’s cooler with food and drinks and take the American teachers out one weekend on the blue Caribbean waters, stopping at a secluded island to swim and enjoy the sun.

It wasn’t what sold me on the job offer, but I’ll admit it sounded pretty nice.

The first semester of school passed without this fabled boating trip coming to pass, though we made one attempt at scheduling it in November.  But finally, last weekend, when we had Monday off for Columbus Day, we received our promised outing.

It just so happened to fall on my friend Lily’s last day with me, so she was able to come along and was treated to an experience most of my other visitors will not be privileged to.  Lucky her! 
Lucky me!

At 9:30 in the morning, Lily and I, Jenni, Kelsey, Danielle, and Eddie drove down to the Marina outside of town and met Mr. Delgado there.  We loaded our supplies into Mr. Delgado’s small boat (he has a larger boat as well, and has told us he’ll attempt to take us all out on that someday; because the small boat only seats 7, the boys and Rachel got left out of this trip), and took off for the island.

Kelsey and Eddie, Delgado at the wheel.

Mountains slipping away in the distance.

I can’t remember the name of the little island where we ended up.  It was lined with mangroves, and there was no beach.  However, we discovered that we really didn’t need one.  The water was only chest-deep, so we dropped anchor and slipped over the side of the boat to swim and snorkel.  Mr. Delgado passed us drinks and food over the edge, and when we needed a break, we clambered back over the side (or over the motor) to get back onto the boat and help ourselves to items from our packs. 

Danielle enjoying the water.

I love Jenni in the background of this one.

Climbing up over the motor was the hardest part; the metal was so hot!!

The weather was perfect, the water refreshing, the food and drink delicious.
A very pleasant way to pass Columbus Day.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Memorable Mishaps

Last weekend, I met my friend Lily in Old San Juan, and we began our 9 days together.  As is SO often the case with travel, the weekend was one of memorable mishaps—many small things adding together to make the weekend one we’ll never forget.

On Saturday, Kelsey and I met Lily and went to breakfast at CafĂ© Mallorca.  Delicious as always, with good service from our waiter.  Walking back to the hotel to pick up Lily’s bags, my sandal broke.  Mishap #1. 

Thankfully, Lily had an extra pair of flip flops, and though they were small, my feet didn’t hang off the back, so I wore them for the rest of the day.

We took a walk around Old San Juan and visited the Casa Blanca (a residence built for Ponce de Leon, but in which he never lived; he died before its completion).

View from the house

We then made our way to the pier and successfully purchased ferry tickets to take us across the bay to the Bacardi plant. 

As we got off the ferry, Kelsey realized her phone was missing.
Mishap #2. 

Long story short, the phone was not recovered.  However, a true ray of positivity, Kelsey was able to put it out of her mind and still enjoy the tour of Bacardi. 

We ate sushi at J-Taste for dinner (YUM!), then came home to Guayama.  On the way home, we were nearly in an accident as the car in front of me braked suddenly (I still don’t know exactly what happened, though Kelsey, riding shotgun, can explain a bit; I focused only on braking quickly enough to avoid collision).  There was no accident—but it made all our hearts race.
Mishap #3.

Sunday morning dawned bright, as we got up and prepared to head to the ferry in Ponce to take us to Caja de Muertos.  The ferry leaves at 8:30am, and it’s at least a 45 minute drive to Ponce, so we planned to leave between 7:15 and 7:30.

Since Kelsey didn’t have a phone, and therefore didn’t have an alarm, Lily and I went over to meet her at 7:15. 

The house was dark.  I tried calling Danielle, Kelsey’s roommate, but unsurprisingly at the early hour, received no answer. 

Kelsey’s room is at the back of the house, and there is a cement wall (perhaps 10ft high) making it impossible to get from the front yard to the back yard without entering the house.  Lily and I were in a conundrum. 
Mishap #4.

After a few minutes deliberation, we decided I probably wouldn’t die if I climbed the wall.  So, up and over I went (it turned out there was a pile of cement blocks on the other side, so I didn’t even have to drop down).  I came out of it with only a skinned shin, and scampered back to Kelsey’s window to pound on it and wake her up. 

Awoken, she performed miracles and was ready and out the door in less than 5 minutes. 

We left the city limits of Guayama at 7:45am.  Half an hour to complete a 45 minute drive.  Ever optimistic, I put my foot to the floor, kept a keen eye for cops, and made it to Ponce by 8:15.
But then I missed the exit.
Mishap #5. 

We realized it less than 5 minutes after where the turn would have been—but because we would have been cutting it close to make it to the ferry had we turned at the proper time, we decided to cut our losses and abandon the Caja de Muertos plan.  We kept on driving and headed to Playa Sucia, my favorite beach in Puerto Rico, which was only another hour’s drive along the way. 

With the help of google maps on Lily’s phone (OH how I love phones with internet access while travelling), we found the beach with no problem.  (Kelsey and I had been once before, but didn’t remember all the streets to turn on). 

The weather was beautiful at Playa Sucia—hot and sunny.  The water was refreshing, and of course I enjoyed gallivanting on the cliffs again.

The iguana herder at work again...

At the end of the day, we came back, stopping in Ponce to find dinner.  We got lost and then couldn’t find an interesting restaurant.
Mishap #6. 

We ended up at Burger King, but in the main plaza of Ponce, which was beautiful, at least.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful, and Lily and I retired early to recover from sun-induced exhaustion.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

San Blas Half Marathon

I’m pretty sure there is no feeling that compares to coming across the finish line of a half marathon.  (Well…actually crossing the finish of a full marathon would probably compare pretty well…but that’s beside the point). 

When I envisioned this blog post a few days ago, I was almost certain it would start with a phrase along the lines of, “At least it’s over…”  As the San Blas Half Marathon drew closer, I began to feel unprepared as I heard more and more horror stories about the route.  I wondered whether I would have the half marathon experience some have had, exhausting myself and dragging myself across the finish at a slow walk.  I was more than a little nervous that I would embarrass myself at the world-class event.

But that didn’t happen.

Yes, the route is definitely tough.  (For those of you from La Crosse, Wisconsin, picture running up and down Bliss Road at least 3 times).  But it wasn’t as bad as I feared.  Although I slowed down considerably when I reached those hills, only once—at the very top of the Ajoguillo Slope—did I stop and walk.  And that was only for 60 seconds max.  Then it was back to running.  Experienced runners will tell you that after the Ajoguillo Slope, it’s all downhill.  But the honest experienced runners will correct themselves and explain that no, after the Slope, it’s mainly downhill, with a few smaller hills tossed in (The Camels). 

The race elevation.  Note that from about 7K, you're climbing, and check out how STEEP it gets
at kilometer 14!  Right at the top is where I walked for a few seconds.

But I made it over those smaller hills with the help of thousands of cheering fans.  Running the route reminded me of footage of the Tour de France, the cycling race I used to be addicted to every July.  In town, the crowds were packed in along the road, many with music blaring to pump up runners.  In the mountains, people had camped out along the route and sat near their tents with barbeque and signs, cheering for each group that passed.  Many were more than willing to pass out cups of water (one little boy of perhaps 3 years old was trying to pass off a beer, much to the chagrin of his mother), but I’d of course been warned to only take water from the designated race stations.  I did, however, steal a paper towel from one woman’s table to keep the sweat out of my eyes on my way up the first climb. 

Police keeping the roads clear in town.
(Hundreds of them, lining the road on both sides)

Before I ran the race, I had already decided not to run it again next year.  After running it…I might go back on that decision.  The race atmosphere makes it all worth it.  And to finish such a challenging route is SUCH an empowering feeling! 

I’d also like to run it again just to show the spectators and my students that a woman can do it (again).  I hadn’t realized the gender distribution was so disproportional until I was checking results today.  Of 1087 runners, only 97 were women. 

About 3 miles in...

And as a woman, I think I represented my sex pretty well.  My final time was 2:25:01.  And let me assure you, I am PROUD of that number.  This route was definitely no La Crosse Fitness Festival flat, fast course!  (When I signed up for the race, before I saw the route, my finish time goal was 2:00:00.  As I trained in the heat, I decided my goal would simply be a personal record—2:07:00 or better.  As the race drew nearer and I began to get scared, my new and final goal became to come in under 2:30:00, and more importantly, to run the entire route rather than walk).

Run on!

Kelsey had problems with my flash... I just like to think I was running
so quickly, I was a blur at the finish.  Love it!!  

Want more info on the race, or to see photos?  Check out: San Blas Half Marathon

Zayas was amazing this weekend!!
 PS.  I can't end this post without explaining how absolutely amazing Mr. Zayas, the computer teacher at school, was this weekend.  He has family in Coamo, and therefore knows the area and the race route really well.  His parents have a house they don't use, right on the marathon route, and he let us stay there for the weekend!  The house is unfurnished, but we just needed a place to sleep.  On Saturday, we followed Zayas to Coamo, he drove us the entire route of the race so I could get a feel for it, and he took me to where I needed to pick up my race packet.  Saturday night there was a concert, and he took us there (we probably wouldn't have known about it, been able to find it, or found a place to park without him).  On Sunday he came through again, navigating through traffic, getting us past the police onto an already-closed off road (by telling them he had an athlete--me--that he needed to get to the starting line), took me to the beginning of the race (I wouldn't have known where to go or how to get there), and waited with me until the buses came to take the runners to the starting line (I wouldn't have known there were buses if not for him either).  He was an absolute lifesaver!!

Of course, these girls were pretty great too,
coming to support me!!  :-D