Sunday, September 30, 2012

For the Cure

Last year, we had a bit of trouble when it came to the Susan G. Komen 5K Race for the Cure… (see the story of how we got lost and missed the race here)  This year, when Kelsey and I planned to run the 5K, we planned it out better (we hoped) and went equipped with directions to the CORRECT coliseum and the memory of where we were supposed to end up. 

We parked our car around 11:30am and headed to pick up our registration packets.  The race didn’t start until 5:00pm (we’d gotten there early because packet pick-up ended at 1:00), so we took advantage of our free time to meet up with our friend Carlouis and spend the afternoon at the mall.  He graciously agreed to pick us up so we didn’t have to move from our $5 parking spot, and we headed out for a sushi fix and some window shopping. 

By 4:00 we were back en route to the Coliseum and the start of the race.  We took a slight detour since we had time, and got a glimpse of Carlouis’s college campus too.  Unfortunately, that detour ended us stuck in traffic.  At 4:25, we were close enough to see the coliseum.  We still had to run back to our car to drop off belongings, and then stop at the packet table because Kelsey needed replacement safety pins for her bib number (hers mysteriously ran away from her during the day), and it was recommended that we be at the starting line by 4:40.  We got out of the car, bid Carlouis farewell, and walked the rest of the way. 

Once we reached the table, Kelsey got in line to get her number stapled to her shirt (they were out of safety pins).  I took her things and headed for the car.  I deposited them, then jogged back to Kelsey (nice warm-up).  I made it back to her by 4:42, and we joined the wave of people moving towards the starting line. 

I have never run a race with so many participants before .   Over 3600 people finished the race as runners being timed—but there were 14,000 total participants.  14,000!!

We packed into the street like sardines.  A band played and a man on stilts danced to the music, along with someone with a Taino mask.  The atmosphere was excited and energetic.  At 5:05pm, the thermometer on the wall of the bank read 91 degrees, and we were far enough back we hadn’t begun to move, though the race had started on time.  Slowly, we began to shuffle forward.  I think Kelsey and I both wondered for a moment whether we’d actually get to run at all during the 5K.    Thankfully, when we reached the starting line, the runners crossed the median to the open lane of the street, and we followed. 

Waiting to start the race 

For perhaps one kilometer, we had open street to run our race.  After that, of course, the walkers discovered the open space and filled in the gaps.  I spent a majority of the race running the median, weaving in between large “aesthetic” boulders and trying to avoid trees and their roots.  It’s actually kind of a miracle I didn’t break an ankle today. 

After kilometer 3, running became easier, as I outpaced the walkers and finally found myself surrounded by only runners.  As I came into the final stretch, I couldn’t sprint quite as hard as I would have liked because I had to weave around so many other runners, but as I crossed the finish and looked at the stopwatch on my wrist, it read 24:21!!! 

My goal for a 5K has been to break 24 minutes for the past few years.  The closest I previously came was 25:33, so I am VERY happy with my new PR of 24:21! 

Kelsey and I met up again as she finished the race, and we headed for home, celebrating our personal victories by not even getting lost on the way home (well…one turn-around; but we knew basically where we needed to get ourselves) and by discussing preparations for our upcoming joint birthday party.  Life is so good!  

Not the best picture...but not so bad for being
taken with sweaty fingers in a crowded place. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Up Up and Away

So, I know a guy who owns his own plane.  He actually flew it down to PR from Colorado…you know, instead of flying commercial. 

Of course, it’s not quite as glamourous as it sounds…it took Robert and Sonja 4 days to get here from Colorado, and they spent 4 times more on gas and landing fees (one way) than I did on my last round-trip plane ticket.  But now they’ve got a plane here.  And that certainly has its perks.  A trip to the small island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico takes them under an hour…and they don’t have to worry about getting up early and driving to Fajardo to catch the ferry, like I do.  San Juan is a 20 minute flight rather than an hour’s drive.  And they always have a great view. 

Last Sunday, we had an airport party, made possible only by Robert’s generosity.  A bunch of us—13 total, actually—got together at the airport in Patillas where Robert keeps his plane.  We brought food and drinks and spent the day sitting outside in the sunshine.  Meanwhile, Robert took people up in his plane one at a time for 20 minute rides up and down the coastline—anyone who wanted to go. 

Getting there early, I snagged spot #2 in line.  I was pumped.  Always a thrill seeker, riding in a plane with an interior no larger than a sports car intrigued me. 

Getting into the plane proved to be the hardest part (and probably also the most entertaining for onlookers).  Word to the wise: don’t wear a sundress and attempt to juggle a camera and a phone while getting into a tiny plane with the propeller running.  It becomes a lot to handle.  First, as I sat down and fished around for my seatbelt with the door still open, my phone fell off my lap and out of the plane to the asphalt.  I hopped out to pick it up.  At the same time, I tried to keep my skirt from blowing up.  Half-successful.  Back in the plane, a little flustered.  Out fell the phone again.  I jumped out again, and I’m sure this time Robert (and everyone else) got an eyeful as I scampered to grab the fallen phone and my skirt DEFINITELY blew all the way up around my waste.  The third time the phone fell from my lap, I left the camera with Robert to hold, got out of the plane again (skirt flew up again), and just gave the phone—which had fallen out of its case this time—to Sonja, who’d come over to help the helpless.  Oh dear.  Not a graceful start.  And so much for uploading photos immediately from the air or texting snapshots to make family and friends jealous.

But then we donned our headsets, buckled our seatbelts, and we were off.  The ride was incredibly smooth over the water, which was a brilliant blue, and the coastline was perhaps even more beautiful from the air than from the road which winds along it.  

El Faro (lighthouse) de Maunabo

After a few minutes, Robert told me it was my turn to fly.  I was all for it…until he started briefing me on the controls, and I realized there were pedals in addition to the yoke (airplane word for “steering wheel”—I just looked it up to refresh my memory).  When I realized I had to worry about not only the wings, but also the rudders, not only right and left, but also up and down, I began to think it was too complicated, and basically decided not to make any turns while I was in control.  Before I took complete control, though, Robert yanked the plane into a steep bank to show me I didn’t have to worry, because the thing could handle a lot.  I’m certain I whooped in surprise as my view turned from coastline to deep blue ocean.  So exhilarating! 

When it was my turn, I tapped the plane left and right only slightly…but I was controlling it!  I was flying!  It may not be for me, but I loved every second of it. 

When, a few moments later, Robert asked whether I like roller coasters,  I said yes rather tentatively, because I do, but in a plane?! 

He pulled us into a steep dive and banked hard.  Just like on a roller coaster, I laughed and screamed all at the same time.  And like a child, when he pulled us level again, I wanted to screech, “Again!  Again!”  But for some reason I didn’t, and soon we were back on the ground.  I exited the plane much more gracefully than I’d entered it, and Josh took his turn. 

It’s not every day I get the chance to ride in a Cessna 150, and Sunday’s experience is one I won’t soon forget.  It’s another thing I’ve added to my mental list of “things I had no idea I’d get to do in Puerto Rico,” thanks to Robert’s generosity and genuine affability.       

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Teaching in the Dark

I feel like I’m sort of getting good at it.  It’s kind of an art form, really.  Not as easy as you might think.  But not as difficult, either.

We’d had trouble with the power going out at school quite a bit this year.  It hasn’t happened for a week now…so with this post I’m probably jinxing it.  But oh well.  I have lost power at least once or twice with each of my 5 classes—which shows you just how many times it’s happened.  Sometimes the power’s only off for 5-10 minutes.  Sometimes the lights flicker on and off at varying shades of brightness for up to an hour.  Once, all power remained off for a solid hour.  (That day classes were called off at lunch time.  And of course right after lunch, all power came back on.) 

Now, none of our classrooms have windows.  So when the power goes out, we have no source of outside light, nor any source of ventilation (because of course the AC turns off when the lights go out).  So, I open both doors to my room.  This lets in a little bit of light from the hallway (which must be on a backup circuit), and the illusion of air movement.  Then, I pull out my cell phone and turn on the flashlight app, using this to illuminate the white board, where I can write notes in place of using my projector as planned.  Students are also allowed to get out cell phones if they have flashlights.  The classroom atmosphere becomes much less formal as the kids move their desks to share one cell phone light between two of them.   I think of ways to shuffle up the lesson, often giving more work-time and saving the more technology-heavy activities for the next period. 

The students, like I am, are getting used to the procedure.  Not even my rowdiest classes scream when the lights go out, now.  (Watch—since I’ve said it, next week they’ll prove me wrong).  In my favorite moment, the lights went out, and in my classroom I heard a unanimous “Shhhhhhhh!” and silence within 30 seconds.  As they waited for me to say something, we heard the chaos from the rooms around us.  I had to congratulate them on their awesome behavior.  One of them volunteered, “We’re in 7th grade now.  We’re so much more mature; in 6th grade we would have screamed.” 

Do you think teaching in the dark is a skill they’ll ask about in my next job interview?  I sort of hope so.  I could tell them all about it.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"You spend a week in Old San Juan..."

Vampire Weekend (ref: song lyric in this post’s title) always plays through my head when we go to Old San Juan.   We may not have spent a week there, but we did spend one night longer than we’d originally planned this weekend.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Friday evening, we left for Old San Juan.  The plan was to eat dinner in the city, go out salsa dancing afterwards, and spend the night.  Saturday we’d go out to breakfast, then spend the day sightseeing in Old San Juan, returning to Guayama in the late afternoon or early evening.  For once, we more or less followed the plan…up until Saturday afternoon, at least. 

Friday night was great.  We missed most of the rush hour traffic and made it to OSJ in about an hour and a half.  Not bad.  I dropped my things off at my Da House, where Kelsey and Jenni and I stayed, and then we went to the hostel where everyone else was staying. 

When we got the hostel, we were met with an iron gate of a door and an intercom.  A caring stranger informed us that the intercom system doesn’t work, so we’d have to wait until someone came into or out of the hostel in order to let us in.  That didn’t sound too promising, so Amanda pulled out the number for the place and called them, and they sent someone down.  While we waited, another traveler ready to check in pulled up, and we met Chris.  A little more on him later.

When the woman came down, she showed us to the elevator—a small, antique looking thing.  She shepherded all seven of us inside.  We just barely fit.  As she closed the door, the heat was sweltering; we were immediately dripping with sweat.  So, she pressed the button for the 6th floor…and nothing happened.  She pressed again.  Still nothing.  She pressed the button for the ground floor.  Nada.  She made half an attempt to open the gate (yes, it was an elevator with a gate you pull shut).  The gate stayed in place.  We stood in our sweat.  Stuck, for all intents and purposes, in a motionless elevator.  Finally she gave the gate a good shove, opened the door beyond it, and we all clambered out.  Three of us opted to take the stairs, and the other 4 chanced the elevator with the reduced weight.  All of us made it to the 6th floor (at approximately the same time, as well). 

view of Plaza Colon from the hostel

After check-in, we dined at one of my favorite restaurants in Old San Juan: El Jibarito.  Great food, good portions, and approximately half the price of most awesome restaurants in OSJ.  We moved on to the Nuyorican café for dancing, and eventually I finished the night in the hot tub on the roof of Da House, where I was staying.  Though Scott and I tried to match last year’s feat of staying up to watch the sun rise, we gave up and went to bed around 4:30am.  A valiant effort. 

Saturday morning began with breakfast at La Mallorca Café—an excellent local diner that’s even been featured on the travel channel (or the food network? I can’t honestly remember). 
Everyone was moving at different speeds in the morning, so after Josh and Amanda and I ate, we went for a walk while we waited for the others to get up, pack up their rooms, and head to breakfast.  By 12:30, everyone had eaten.  There was some confusion about rides home, because one of our 2 drivers for the 7 of us wanted to go home early.  Everything ended up working out, though, and 3 people left after we saw San Cristobal fort (amazing, as always), and the rest of us stayed for the afternoon.

San Cristobal, San Juan

Josh may or may not have climbed over a wall...

View from my very favorite spot at the fort.  Pictures don't do it justice.

At about 4pm, as we sat at an outdoor patio enjoying beverages and each other’s company, Jenni remarked wistfully, and not for the first time, “I wish we could just stay one more night.”  I’d been the reason we were going to go home, and at this point, I finally conceded, that as long as we came home right after breakfast on Sunday so I could get some work done, I wouldn’t mind staying. 

I really do love making the occasional spontaneous decision.  Kelsey and I headed back to Da House to see if a room was available for the 4 of us who would be staying the night.  Then we met up again at Marshall’s, where all 4 of us bought an outfit for the evening (since we had all only packed one change of clothes). 

We all have our own ways of getting ready... :) 

Back at the hotel, we ran into Chris—the guy we’d met the night before checking into the hostel.  He’d moved, and was now staying at Da House as well.  We invited him to come along with us to hang out for the night, and he did. 

What a great night.  The 5 of us had a delicious dinner, found a few new places to hang out, and just had a fantastic time together.  The night ended, again, in the hot tub on the roof of the hotel.  Once again, we didn’t make it quite until sunrise, but that was okay.  Just being there was more than enough.
I sure am glad we decided to stay.

Sunday we had a 2nd delicious breakfast at La Mallorca, and then we headed for home.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better week(end) in Old San Juan.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Tetris.  The classic game requires one to make the best possible use of the available space by packing things as tightly as possible.  It takes focus, is mildly addicting, and is quite a bit of fun.  But some people may not realize the ways in which Tetris skills can be put to use in real life.

Take, for example, the job of loading 5 beach chairs, a large cooler, a grill, charcoal, 2 smaller coolers, and sufficient towels and beach supplies for 5 people into the back of a ’96 Honda Accord named Ruby.  This was our task at 6:00am this morning, as Kelsey, Amanda, Josh, Scott and I prepared to depart for Playa Sucia for the day.  It only took a few minutes of maneuvering and critical thinking, and the five of us and our gear were on the road by 6:15.  Not bad for a Sunday morning!

The reason for our early start was due to it being Labor Day weekend—not only a holiday, but also the last weekend many Puerto Ricans will go to the beach before “fall” sets in.  We pulled into the parking area at the beach just before 9am, and our timing couldn’t have been better.  We didn’t have far to walk from our parking spot, and we found a great spot nestled back in the trees on the beach to set up camp for the day. 

I feel like I say this a lot, but we couldn’t have asked for a better beach day.  The sun shone on us all day, and the water was the perfect temperature to cool us down.  Though there were certainly plenty of people around us, I never felt like they were impinging on our space.  We alternated between relaxing, dipping in the water, and eating.  And of course at the beginning of the day we took the hike up to the cliffs and the lighthouse.

By 3:30 in the afternoon, we were all feeling the effects of a long day in the sun, and we packed up and headed for home.  After a largely rainy and cloudy month, all five of us got our first touch of color today.  Unfortunately for most of us, that color is red…but thankfully no one (except perhaps Scott, who’s goal was to go from zero to color today) is burned so severely as to cause much lasting discomfort. 

As we left the beach, it became 100% evident just how smart we were in arriving early.  We played another game of Tetris with our car as we left the parking area.  Vehicles were parked on both sides of the pothole-ridden dirt road for close to a mile (or maybe more), and cars were both coming and leaving.  Our exit involved a lot of stopping at wide parts of the road to let cars pass, and some backing up or pulling as far to the side as possible.  Slowly, but surely, we made it back to the paved section of the road, and from there, home. 

I end this day as I do so many in PR, thankful for this sun-drenched time filled with nature’s beauty, great people and lots of laughter, and just enough serendipity to guide us through life’s tricky spots.   

Josh's Tetris skills on the way home.
There's even "this much" room to spare!
(photo by Amanda)