Sunday, August 26, 2012

When you get lost...stop and enjoy the view.

Saturday morning, I sent Amanda a text that read, “There’s only a 30% chance of rain for today.  Want to go on an adventure?”  We decided to go hiking in the Toro Negro Forest in the afternoon—a state forest I had never been to, about an hour’s drive from where we live.  Jenni and Kelsey (and of course Josh) decided to come along, so by 12:30 the five of us were loaded into the car and headed west on the expressway.

My most trusted PR travel website had been down in the morning, so I didn’t have their easy to follow directions in hand, but I had mapquested our route and written down the directions.
It soon became apparent that it wasn’t going to be a day of easy travels, though.

First, we missed our exit on the freeway.  When we hit Ponce, we turned around, keeping our eyes peeled for the Juana Diaz exit.  We’d only gone 10 kilometers too far, and with the help of google maps on my phone, we found the correct road.

We turned onto PR 149, and had no trouble spotting our next turn onto PR 514.  The directions (and the gps map on my phone) told us to just stay on 514 until it intersected with PR 143.  We drove along the narrow, winding roads, and the hills became steeper and steeper.  Josh had his foot to the floor, and still the car crept up the blind hills at a snail’s pace.  We held our breaths, crossed our fingers, turned around another bend, and were met with…a dead end?  Wait.  That can’t be right.

Dead end on PR 514.  Don't let it get ya! 

We stopped the car and asked a local who was conveniently outside.  He told us to go back to the intersection with PR 5514 and turn there (definitely not on the directions).  We did that, and found our way to PR 143 eventually.  Once we got there, we were faced with the decision: follow the directions and turn right, or turn left, as the gps made it look like the state forest lay mostly in that direction?  We turned left.

Wrong answer.
After maybe 20 minutes of driving (on a wider, flatter, yet still mountainous road), we stopped, got out for a few pictures, and decided to turn around.  We stopped once more for directions and confirmed that yes, we should have turned right at the intersection.

Photo from our turn-around spot

We stopped twice more to confirm directions before we reached the Information Center of the forest.  We hopped out to pick up a trail map, (met a SUPER cute stray puppy), and found that the door was closed, and no one was around.  Though the station was supposed to be open until 4pm, looking at the guest book, it seemed no one had been there that day since 10:45am.  They must have decided to close up early.

locked doors.

SUPER cute stray puppy

By this time it was almost 3:30pm, and we knew we weren’t going to get a good hike in for the day.  One trail started right across the street from the ranger station (and was clearly labeled “Camino El Bolo”), so we decided to follow it for a bit.

We walked for about half an hour along the wide, lush path, before deciding that it wasn’t worth following the trail to completion, since we didn’t know where it was headed, whether it looped, or how long it was.  So, we turned around and made our way back to the car.

Camino El Bolo, Toro Negro Forest

On the plus side, we got a few good things out of the day.  We can get back to the forest pretty easily now (and next time it won’t take us 2 ½ hours to get there), we had an entertaining (and beautiful) drive through the mountains, and we still got an hour’s walk in the cloud forest out of it.
All in all, it was really a pretty good Saturday afternoon!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy Hurricane Day!

Tropical Storm Isaac is currently making its way to the south and west of Puerto Rico, and what that means for us is gray skies and intermittent rain, so far.  It also means that yesterday afternoon, school was canceled for today, the school being closed “until further notice.” 

Seeing as last evening was more or less beautiful (a few scattered showers and some clouds, but no storms), we headed to the beach.  My conversation with one of the new teachers went something like this:
(me) “We’re going to the beach.  Want to come?”
“Ha, yeah, let’s do it!  Let’s live dangerously.”
“Okay, see you soon!”
“Wait, you were serious? I was totally kidding!”
“I wasn’t.  The storm isn’t even getting here until tomorrow.  Let’s go.”
It took just a little bit of cajoling, but we all ended up sitting on the beach, beverages in hand, watching the thunderheads in the distance.  It was a relaxing night—and we were treated to a pretty wonderful sunset, as well. 

Brandemar Beach, Guayama

Great sunset at Brandemar

Today, Jenni and I have been taking advantage of having power and water while it lasts.  I did some cooking to last the week if necessary, Jenni is working on laundry, and we’re both savoring the luxury of our internet connection.  The skies are grey, and we’re getting bursts of strong rains with increasing frequency.  They last 5-10 minutes, and then we go back to nearly clear skies. 

The view out my front door.  Grey skies to the right...

Patches of blue to the left.

And then 2 minutes later...heavy rains.

The projected path of Isaac takes it well south of Puerto Rico, becoming a hurricane as it intersects with The Dominican Republic and Cuba.  My prayers are with the residents there, and I hope the storm doesn’t incur too much damage.
But as for us, we’re just enjoying our hurricane day.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Savoring a Sunday Afternoon

It’s hard to believe I’ve been back in Puerto Rico for almost a month already.  The time has passed quickly, and has been filled with getting to know one another, preparing for a new school year, and beginning the school year.  We haven’t had great luck with having beautiful, sunny Saturdays so far, so most of our weekends have been pretty uneventful.  There’s not much to do for excitement in Puerto Rico on a rainy day, as it turns out.

Last weekend we did sneak in a cloudy hike in the rainforest on Saturday.  We made it to the peak with perfect timing; we snapped our pictures and enjoyed the view, and then the clouds rolled in, erasing the vista.  I particularly enjoyed the moment, because I felt like I was living an instant foretold.  Last spring, when Liz and I hiked to the same spot, a hiker coming up behind us told us that on a cloudy day, you could sit where we were standing and watch the clouds rush up the mountain towards you, shooting over your head and engulfing you.  Last Saturday, I experienced that—and it was every bit as inspiring as our fellow hiker had made it out to be. 

Los Picachos--before the clouds obscured them

Amanda found a leaf--to use in case it rained.  :) 

Yesterday—Sunday—was the best day I’ve had since being back this fall, however.  All nine American teachers met up at Chidiopolis, a public beach just 15 minutes from our house that we didn’t know existed until late last spring.  We claimed the perfect picnic table in the shade right next to the  water, and for lunch we grilled chicken and enjoyed other tasty sides.  Josh brought his slackline along, and he tied it up between 2 palm trees and taught everyone the basics of attempting the walk.  I’d seen plenty of people slackline in college, but had never attempted it myself.  We all had a blast trying to master it; it’s an addicting activity!

The master.

At first I couldn't get much farther than this.

Our picnic area at the beach.  Perfection!

In the late afternoon, we threw a Frisbee around and jumped through the waves.  We were all just completely happy and high on life.  As the sun began to sink in the sky, we packed up our belongings and headed for home, tired, but refreshed, rejuvenated, and a little more ready to begin week 2 with students.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hope for a New Year

Today, I feel incredibly hopeful about what the new school year will bring.  Why?  Well, to start with, I had the immense pleasure of chucking 9 (NINE!) desks out of my classroom today.  And they’re not being replaced.  That’s right, folks; I’m told my largest class this year will be a whopping 19 students.  I was, quite literally, jumping up and down as I bid the ninth desk good-bye.  With only 20 desks in my room, there’s so much SPACE.  Group work will be a breeze.  I could have students sit in a circle for discussions.  When my student teacher comes second quarter, there would be room to give her a small desk (if I can scrounge up an extra piece of furniture at the school). 

Beyond the class size issue (which I am excited about, not actually holding my breath on; last year my class sizes grew by 3-5 in the first few days of school), I also feel hopeful about my new classroom set-up (so much more organized and practical than last year), the cleanliness of my room so far (my floor was mopped twice today!), and my own preparation.  Contrary to last year, 2 days before the first day of school, I already have my syllabus, list of required materials, classroom expectations, and a bunch of helpful links uploaded to my class webpage.  With Jenni’s help, I figured out how to hook up my laptop to my classroom projector—which is great for SO MANY reasons.  For example, when I want to show a dvd, I won’t have to track down the school’s external cd drive anymore.  I can use my Smart Notebook software again (I don’t have a smartboard, but that only means I will have to manipulate the screen from the computer, which isn’t a big deal).  And of course, I won’t have to use my USB drive to transfer everything I want to show on the projector to the school computer.  To me, this stuff sounds like complete luxury.  J   

So, even though I don’t have my class lists yet, and I never did get new tiles to replace the ones that came off of my classroom floor last year, I am pretty darn hopeful about what this year will bring.  It’s going to be great! 

My desk area and my "success wall."  I love it!

Look at all the SPACE!!  Also, a change from last year: my shelf is now
at the front of the room, so no one will be sitting right next
 to it and messing with it during class.  

Wisdom of a 2nd year teacher.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Back in Paradise

I’ve been back in Puerto Rico for ten days now, though it seems both much longer and much shorter at times.  My first week and a half has not brought a lot of excitement.  I’ve spent time meeting and getting to know our five new American teachers, settling in to my home here again, and setting up my classroom at school. 

As tropical depressions pass by the island, we’ve been getting quite a lot of rain—which has eliminated the possibility of taking any extensive trips so far.  I have made it to Guavate, to introduce Amanda and Josh (one of the new couples) to the delicious lechón served there.  We went to Charco Azul that day as well, and watched the locals jump from the rocks into the blue-green pond.  I’ve been to our three “local” beaches, though this weekend swimming wasn’t possible at two of them due to angry, scary waves.  Last weekend Eddy took us to a place in Salinas playing merengue and bachata music, and I attempted to learn the basic merengue steps.  Probably looked quite silly…but that’s what life is about.   

Though I was sad to leave friends and family at home, being back here has been good.  I think this year promises a lot of good things for all of us. 

More stories (and pictures) will come soon!  We begin school this coming Thursday, and I’m excited to see my old students again and meet my new ones.