Student #1: Man, I’m so excited to finally be going to a foreign country!
Student #2: Uh, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, its not foreign.
Student #1: You know what I mean!
The students in the photo are from Universidad Interamericana in Puerto Rico. The students in the conversation…yeah, those are MY kids….oh lawd what have I gotten myself into?
Again I couldn’t sleep as we sailed into Puerto Rico’s Harbor at Sunrise. I got pretty good shots of the city, the capital and the famous fort as we sailed in. I caught a cute shot of two of my favorite students. I am loving theÂ Nikon D50 for these shots, but can’t give up the Coolpix for the everyday roaming around photo ops.
The weather was hot even at 7am, but the sun wasÂ bathing everything in aÂ beautiful light,Â and the energyÂ and excitementÂ on boardÂ was electric. I couldn’t wait to trample my new friends as I headed down the gangway. The PILOT boat came out to get us, and guide us into the berth, but before we got cleared to leave the vessel we got a surprise: The Governor of Puerto Rico came by to give us a diplomatic briefing and warn us that Ricky Martin was in town and that unfortunately the concertÂ tickets were sold out.
Getting the ship into harbor, and getting everyone cleared through immigration (yes, even in PR) and keeping the students relatively calm and orderly, requires everyone on staff to be involved to some degree to make the process asÂ smooth and as fast as possible (disembarking almost 1000 people). So I have quickly learned there are no daysÂ “off” and no “sleeping in”, but everything is so new and exciting that noÂ one really minds how hard we’re workingÂ from what I can tell.Â
Once the ship was cleared I cleaned my office (I know what a dork), cleaned my room, and set out my laundry to be picked up. My toughest work days are coming up with the academic add/drop process for the students to finalize theirÂ courses, and I wanted this quiet time to get organized. I also wanted to give everyone a running start into San Juan, so that we wouldn’t be tripping all over each other while in port. Some people took off for the beach at Vieques, others for the Museo de nuestraÂ raiz Africana (Museum of our African Roots) but I took off for the Zocalo in hommage to my time in Mexico. I just wanted some time out to myself and by myself to think and observe. After almost two weeks on board and surrounded by people I needed to recalibrate and this was just the spot (except for all the damn pigeons!).
After my navel-gazing down-time, I caught up with some other staff members and we flagged down a taxi and asked the driver to “take us where YOU would go eat if you weren’t working and were taking new friends out to show them San Juan” he obliged and took us to El Jibarito on Sol Street in old San Juan. The place was empty, but had a great vibe and the waitress teased us in spanish before admitting that she spoke flawless english. The three of us hung out in the back room drinking Medalla’s (Puerto Rican beer) in the filtered sunshine, and enjoying the quiet. Little did we know that 700 other people from our ship had the same idea and when we went pay the check and leave, the restaurant was packed with all of our compadres! I chowed down on red beans and yellow rice with grilled pork chops and plantains dipped in garlic butter (yum!).
I had to high tail it back to the ship to get ready for the evening’s activities! I was a trip leader and took 47 of our SAS students out to Universidad Interamericana for a night of cross-cultural fun. We ended up taking 2 buses to the university so about 100 of us in total. When we arrived the Puerto Rican students were outside, all dressed in maroon polo shirts with their school mascot (the tiger) and clapping and singing “ole’, ole’, ole’, ole’, ole'” with huge smiles on their faces. We spent the evening eating local food, hanging out and mostly DANCING SALSA (click to watch video two videos). We were hot, sweaty messes, dancingÂ for 3 hours before we finally packed up our stuff and went home. Many of the students met up with their PR peersÂ later thatÂ night in old San Juan and it was fun to watch the boundaries of culture, skin tone, and experience melt as young people pursued those universal unifiers…beer, romance, and dancing.
When we got back on the bus someone had hopped from the other bus onto ours and I was left without a seat as I gave mine up to the last student. One of my male students yelled “You can sit on my lap Dia!” I declined, citing the rumor factory that would have me “giving lapdances on buses” that would be circulating within the hour. The students thought this was hilarious and I told them I’d cut their throats in their sleep if I heard one rumor about me on board the ship. Don’t you wish I was looking after YOUR kids?