Puerto Rico: Guess Who Got a Tattoo?


I wish I could tell you that I slept in today, but I didn’t. Not a whole lot of time for that and who wants to sleep in when there’s a whole U.S. territory to see? Shayla, (another one of my staff colleagues) and I hit the streets of San Juan early. very early. So early that nothing was open except for the jewelry stores and the restaurants serving breakfast. She was on a mission to track down a tattoo parlor or two, and get some comparison prices for a small piece she wanted done. This would be her first tattoo and she was nervous. I don’t know her well, but she seems really similar to me in that she’s pretty conservative about that kind of thing. I like the idea of tattoos, on someone else, but have never seriously considered getting one myself. But I was curious and intrigued, so I went with her for moral support.

We spent the morning wandering around Old San Juan and the streets reminded me of San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) in some places with their narrow access and brightly painted buildings. It was a nice breezy morning and we just strolled which I love. We dipped into Cafe Mallorca, where they are known to have an amazing breakfast, but to conserve money, we ate breakfast on the ship (free!) and picked up some homemade macaroons to sample while we checked things out (worth the 30,000 calories!). We got bamboozled into checking out some jewelry and next thing I know, I had whipped out my credit card and so had she. I keep justifying these purchases as “gifts” but if yall don’t get any “gifts” when I get back, yall know the deal!

While waiting for the tattoo parlors to open we found a music store (Jah Rastafari) and I was all excited that I could pick up some Puertorequeno tunes, alas…they sold only Bob Marley and Marley-esque tuneage. BUT we did meet Rashonda who is an SAS alumni. She did the spring voyage last year and loved PR so much that after returning home and graduating, she packed up and moved down to PR last August! How cool is that? She was great and gave us a recommendation for lunch, but had no help for me regarding my music crisis. We found two tattoo parlors for Shayla and she got quotes from both of them. I liked the guys (pictured above), but wouldn’t trust them with putting ink on my body.

We decided to mull her options over lunch at Cafe Puerto Rico. I know, cheesey name, but the food was oh, so, good. After mulling the menu, and chatting up the cutie-pie bartender/owner and his brother while he made us some noon-time cocktails…I decided on arroz con camarones, plantanas (yellow rice with saute’d shrimp, plantains) and…red beans (good thing I have my own room, no?). They also made their own salsa picante (hot sauce) from scratch and it worth the sweat beading up on my forehead, they couldn’t give me the recipe though b/c they said their father made it, and they had no idea what was in it!

After lunch we stumbled across this little store (Hecho a Mano) where we spent a small fortune in jewelry and music, a lot of the students had found it too after word got out about the great prices and the place was packed but I picked up two CDs that I am totally in lurve with now and have on constant rotation (Shayla is rolling her eyes). Having made her decision (not the guys pictured above), I accompanied Shayla to the tattoo parlor of her choice and stood-by while she did all the paperwork and got all of the info and warnings.

It took about 20 minutes (17 of which I slept through) and I waited for her in the parlor lobby. The artwork came out beautifully. She hugged her tattoo artist as if she was glad to still be alive and we boogied out of there to a pharmacy so she could get the recommended ointment to take care of her new bodyart. We also stocked up on drinks and snacks, etc for the ship (we leave tomorrow!).

I also found these creepy things which are the worst souvenir idea I’ve ever seen! We spied some old dudes throwing down playing dominoes near the park and stopped to soak up their good time. The last stop of the day: booking our indie (independent) trip to El Yunque rainforest! A lot of people went yesterday with groups but we decided it would be more fun with less people so we cabbed (best cab ever) it over to the Ritz Carlton’s tour desk and hooked up a tour for the next morning. I’m still coming to grips with traveling in a group, but I realized I’d rather travel this way than not at all, so I’m keeping my attitude and perspective in check. All of which are easier to do because I genuinely lurve the majority of the people I’ve met.

Other highlights: Dusting off my rusty spanish and impressing others (and myself) with my ability to get around/get what I needed. I’m an international woman of mystery!

My latest post is up over at Gadling! Our talented team over there is growing. We’d love your comments!

Puerto Rico: Not A Foreign Country


these kids can DANCE, originally uploaded by funchilde.

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 the  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 was bathing everything in a beautiful light, and the energy and excitement on board 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 concert 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 as smooth and as fast as possible (disembarking almost 1000 people). So I have quickly learned there are no days “off” and no “sleeping in”, but everything is so new and exciting that no one really minds how hard we’re working from what I can tell. 

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 their 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 nuestra 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, dancing for 3 hours before we finally packed up our stuff and went home. Many of the students met up with their PR peers later that 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?


Nassau to Puerto Rico: Life, Boats, Lifeboats


Parents wave bon voyage!, originally uploaded by funchilde.

Nassau was a blur, well the part that I got to see was interesting but training for the round the world (RTW) gig has been amazing because I’m loving the people. Unfortunately I got to get up close and personal with this Starbucks (not a huge fan) but didn’t get up close or even close to ATLANTIS, that disneyland for grownups with all kinds of sexy fun to be had…or so I hear.

Everyone is working hard and between training, lifeboat drills and studying the crisis management manual (what to do if there’s a 1) kidnapping, 2) man overboard, 3) we run out of libations in the faculty lounge….page 37)…there’s been no time to chillax. I did however make an emergency supply run for some “grown-up juice” before the students boarded and we set off.

 So, the students have indeed arrived. All 701 of them. I’m used to working with 17 year olds with the LEAD Program and the average age of my MBA students is 26, so I am recalibrating to build relationships with this group (average age 20-mostly college juniors and seniors). They come from 271 different universities and are an amazing group of budding scholars with a fantastic average GPA and generally great attitudes. We got them boarded and they waved goodbye to their parents before turning their tears into mischevious smiles and shouts of joy when their parents were no longer in sight.

I am excited that the students are on board because it means the training wheels come off and we can get this party started. It also brings home the awesome responsibility we have to the student’s safety and academic health. I guess that was something I didn’t figure in when I dreamed about this journey. I’m a leader here in ways that really could be life or death.  Fortunately, I think the rest of the team is amazing, no one person counts more than any other and we continue to grow in our affection for each other daily. This experience is intense, we spend 18 hours a day together, we live, eat and work together and there really aren’t any weekends or days off.  

We are under way, a $30 million dollar floating city, headed eastward around the world, at 20 mph.



Naughty Nassau

I’m totally in lurve with the whole crew of the MV explorer, but there are super-crazy anti-fraternization rules (is that like boycotting a college party?). For one, the crew (of the ship, not necessarily staff like myself) will be immediately dismissed if they are found to have an inappropriate relationship with one of the students. This apparently happens ALL.THE.TIME. Unfortunately most of the crew are not nearly as well off as most of the student’s families.

The staff isn’t supposed to fraternize with the crew either, but I think if it happens it is supposed to be discreet. But the consequences could still be dire as we will be living in a 900 person community that is as small (or big) as a cruise ship. And there are NO secrets around here. Then of course, the staff (like myself) aren’t supposed to have inappropriate relationships with the students either. So each group (crew, staff, students) basically must pluck from within its own pool so to speak, to assuage any romantic leanings (am I the master of the euphemism (sp?) or what?).

Anyway, I guess I just realized we’re about to go around the world at 20 mph with duty free liquor, a swimming pool, a stunning view and a don’t look, don’t touch policy! This isn’t really that hard for most people who have been academic administrators. I don’t expect it to be a problem here, but ooooohhhh, what lies ahead?

They Call Him What?

One of the perks to being on the executive team is that we get access to all sorts of secrets and inside information regarding the ship, the students, etc….actually, I’m lying. The real perks are things like breakfast with the Captain (pictured in white captain looking uniform). Captain Jeremy is from England and is hilarious in an English kind of way, meaning the humor is dry and you get the joke like 20 minutes after you brush your teeth and get in the bed.

His official title is Master Jeremy. Now, for reasons I won’t even get into, there is no way in the world I’m calling him that. Fortunately Captain seems to work just fine, and he’s so busy running this small floating city that I haven’t seen him much. The vessel that Semester at Sea used prior to this one was the SS Universe, so his official title in England was “Jeremy K, Master of the Universe”, I DO think that is cool. Master of the Explorer doesn’t quite measure up, but the ship is beautiful inside and out.

Nassau, Bahamas: Stunning on So Many Levels

Okay yall, I have some confessions to make. Well, I won’t make ALL of them here because the list of people who have access to this continues to grow and include ever scarier prospects like clients, staff of clients, new crushes, etc.

We made our way slowly from Florida down to the Bahamas sailing mostly under cover of night. The ship continued to rock in a gentle way that now permeates my whole reality. Whenever I lay down, I feel the motion, even when we aren’t moving…groovy.

I literally could not sleep through our approach into Nassau. I jumped up, brushed my 32, and grabbed my Nikon D50 and headed for the 7th deck. The sunrise was stunning. Watching the smaller boats whose sailors still slumbered under a full rainbow in the quiet, warm, breeze was the best way I’ve woken up in…months? years?

The ship in the picture is not ours, this is the ship we docked next to on our approach into Nassau, our ship, the MV Explorer, is about 3/4 the size of the one you see here. These ships are out of control huge. We saw one that had an outdoor track on top and another that had a fake rock climbing wall! Here’s a shot at the warm caribbean blue water that I spied off the deck before we got into harbor. Here’s another look in the shallower water near the pier. Yes, even the water is stunning. And our pilot boat, these are the guys that work for Nassau Port Authority who come out to the cruise ships, climb aboard and THEY actually steer the ship in, not the vessel captain. We backed in even, which is fun becuase its neat to watch the ship’s wake when we make a U turn in waters so blue.

Confession #1: The weather is stunning. At last I have escaped the chilled to the bone blues of the east coast. Even Florida was chilly!

I’m settling in nicely. I love my cabin, love my office, love the deck 6 outside bar (its even prettier at night) and I REALLY love the faculty/staff lounge liquor selection. And I will not be going anywhere near this thing once the students get on board. I think we actually have one of the best teams I have ever worked with too. Unfortunately we don’t have much time left together during training. We pick up the young’uns here in Nassau. I’m REALLY going to need that duty free liquor.

Confession #2: I caved and bought a Nikon 70-300mm lense. While nowhere near the $700 of the lens I was looking at when I bought my new D50, she is AWESOME. I was really puketastic about this expense but after I saw the results I knew I had made the right choice. My trusty Coolpix S6 is still my first love and go-to gal. She just tucks so nicely into my cargo capris.

Confession#3: I wear cargo capris.

Port Everglades, Fl: Cutting the Bow Lines

port everglades sunset, originally uploaded by funchilde.

Sunset view of the Port Everglades Marine Terminal off the aft (back) pool deck. We cut the bow lines at 8pm, heading to Nassau Bahamas! The weather was warm but breezy, there was a lot of activity leading up to drawing the anchor and shoving off and then…there wasn’t. The rocking of the ship is making me catatonic in these meetings, no sea sickness to report.

Port Everglades, Fl: Ships Ahoy!


Ho.Lee.Crap. I am tired. I made it to the ship with minutes to spare only to find that we weren’t going to sail until tomorrow. My first view of the MV explorer took my breath away, my chest got tight with joy and fear. She’s huge (24,000 Tons), she’s beautiful (just completed in 2002) and she’s fast (top speed 32 knots). I could barely get all of her in the picture I tried to take from the security gate.

I can’t believe I’m going to live out of 4 bags for almost four months (click on pic to see packing list). I’m amazed at how well I packed when you consider that 1/8 of this stuff is books. I checked in and my bags were delivered to my cabin. Not having cruised before I had no idea what to expect. Though I’m one of the executive team (there are 6 of us) on this voyage, I had prepared myself for an inside, deck 2 cabin, behind the engine and the anchor, with no porthole, no light and industrial paint. Fortunately, my cabin is amorgeous (amazing + gorgeous). I’m deck 5 starboard with a view of the ocean and the lifeboats (and believe me, I’m okay with that!).

My bathroom, my desk (and again after I unpacked), my tv,(what’s in that glass?) and my beds before I asked my cabin steward to put them together (the reflective tape on the life vests is what you see glowing). As luxurious as all of this sounds, I have to earn my keep…I’m headed to an 8:00pm executive team meeting. I can’t wait to figure out what I’ve gotten myself into and learn my way around this beast.

Family Expansion: Nicole & Curt

My baby brother got married today in Jamaica. I thought I’d be fine missing the wedding, with their blessing even, but all day I’ve worn my tears close to the surface. I wish I was there, with my parents, my nephew and of course the newlyweds. To dance, sing, and drink with my family sounds delicious even though I’m in my own kind of paradise here in Nassau, Bahamas (with…dancing, singing and drinking no less!).

A small gift from the gods though…I got to escort Archbishop Desmond Tutu to a meeting! So cool! He’s the cutest thing ever isn’t he? More news later.

Mad love to my brother and sister-in-law. I love you both.

Port Everglades, Fl: Almost Famous

Just a quickie yall. On the move to the BAHAMAS! Don’t HATE, CONGRATULATE! Sorry, I got a little carried away.

[1] Funchilde and Megan got a HUGE shout out on the National Geographic Traveler blog! Holla!

[2] I have a couple of new posts up over at Gadling (my posts are here Mom), good grazing while I get my life together over here.