Round The World in 100 Days: Puerto Rico, USA

Happy Thursday beautiful people! It’s Dia with your bi-weekly update on the slowest moving ’round the world trip ever! We are well under way chasing the sun around the globe, sailing east and hope you’ll enjoy the ride vicariously.

It seemed strange to be sailing from Nassau, Bahamas (basically a foreign territory) to Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory) as we head around the world at 20 mph. That said, I have no sea sickness to report though many, many of the almost 900 people on board with SAS, are feeling queasy as we all get our sea legs. The run from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico was uneventful in terms of weather, but we’re all getting used to living on a floating city with 900 strangers. The students are learning their way around the ship and starting their classes, the staff (myself included) are learning that there is no place on the ship that the students don’t take over like a swarm of locusts. Fortunately, we have one of the best groups ever in terms of academic standing, and even after only a week, I have to admit that my affection for them is high.

We sailed into Puerto Rico on another beautiful morning. The sunrise was magnificent and we got great pictures of the PILOT boat coming out to guide the ship into harbor. We could see the government center, famous fort, and the coast guard station. Last, but not least, the closer we got to port, the more you could see the beautiful pastel-colored Spanish colonial architecture.

Once we had all cleared immigration, a process that takes a little over an hour and includes all 900 passengers collecting our passports and having them stamped one by one before anyone can disembark the ship, San Juan was under siege. Puerto Rico is the world’s largest producer of rum, that sugarcane based nectar of the gods. And by goodness, we were going to find it (along with the locally brewed beer: Medalla).

I held back a little and let the ship empty before I packed up my cameras and loaded up my daypack. I 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), others for a 4 hour walking tour of the city, but I took off for the Zocalo in homage to my time in Mexico. I knew this would be my best bet at finding the rhythm of the city and my best chance to observe people doing whatever it was they do on a random morning.

After my photographic journey into the life of San Juan residents, I caught up with some fellow staffers and we begged a taxi driver to take us to his favorite local eatery. We ended up at 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 shipmates! I chowed down on red beans and yellow rice with grilled pork chops and plantains dipped in garlic butter (yum!) all for about $11US.

We rode around for a bit watching people surf, watching school children on tours of the city government buildings and testing the relative “icy coldness” of the Medallas at several local haunts. I had to get back to the ship to get ready for the evening’s activities. I was a trip leader and took 47 of our 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 salsa dancing (them-very well, us-very poorly). We danced for 3 hours before we finally packed up our stuff and went home. I changed clothes and again met up with some staff to hit Bar Rumba.

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. I joined a friend who was looking for a tattoo parlor to complete the design she wanted to have done. 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. We came to learn that the 7 block grid that comprises Old San Juan is a World Heritage Site, with buildings that date back to the 16th century and amazing cobble-stoned streets.

It was a nice breezy morning and we just strolled which I love. I found that as the day progressed my rusty Spanish was improving bit by bit, and I will admit that my ego was pumped by how many people were impressed with my skills (which just goes to show that they know nothing!). We slipped into Cafe Mallorca, where we heard that they have an amazing breakfast, and picked up some homemade macaroons to sample while we checked things out.

While waiting for the tattoo parlors to open we found a music store (Jah Rastafari) and I was excited that I could pick up some Puertorequeno tunes, alas…they sold only Bob Marley and Marley-esque tunes, but we did meet an expat, SAS alumni. Rashonda did the spring voyage last year and loved Puerto Rico so much that after returning home and graduating, she packed up and moved down here 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.

We decided to mull her options over lunch at Cafe Puerto Rico. I know, cheesy name, but the food was oh, so, good. San Juan it turns out is gaining a reputation as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, and I can honestly say that I did not have a bad meal my entire stay.

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 all for about $15 US including 2 mojitos. 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 infatuated with now and have on constant rotation.

Shayla got her tattoo, 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. We also stocked up on drinks and snacks, etc for the ship (we leave tomorrow!

The last stop of the day: booking our indie (independent) trip to El Yunque rainforest (about $45 US including roundtrip transport). Alot 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 enjoy everyone that I’ve met so far.

I highly recommend the trip out to El Yunque (Caribbean National Forest), which is the only rainforest in the US Forest System. The 23 miles of trails, copious bird, plant and animal life and humidity make for a once in a lifetime experience. Flights to Puerto Rico are fairly cheap, the beaches have been largely (miraculously) untouched and the weather is pretty good year round. If I had to sum up the three best reasons to visit PR, they would be: the warm and gracious people (our fellow US citizens!), the amazing food, and the natural beauty of the environment perfect for outdoor and water sports.

Next Stop: Salvador, Brazil
Previously: Nassau, Bahamas

Round The World in 100 Days: Nassau, Bahamas

Hey beautiful people, I apologize for the brief absence, but sailing around the world is kind of exhausting, not to mention, the internet is darn expensive out here in the middle of the Caribbean, Atlantic, Pacific, etc. This feature will run every Monday and Thursday as long as the internet gods grant my wishes and show me mercy. Last time we were together I was getting ready to head out for a 100 day trip around the world with these guys, and now that we are well under way I can tell you that this is one of the top five things I have ever done in my young life.

We set sail from Port Everglades, Florida on a beautiful day with calm seas, a beautiful sunset and a fully stocked bar for the faculty and staff. We have been in training off and on the whole time and the topics run the gamut from how to stay healthy while at sea to what to do if there’s a kidnapping, man overboard, pirate attack, etc. really, I’m not kidding. Okay, maybe the last one was a joke, but I won’t confirm or deny it!

The ship is beautiful inside and out. The MV Explorer is carrying almost 1000 people on this voyage including over 700 students. Add to that the Faculty, staff and ship’s crew and you’ve got a full house sailing east around the world chasing the sun. I have an outside double cabin with view of the sea and the lifeboats. But my favorite spot is hanging out on the 6th deck aft, taking in the view. Though I’m working on this voyage, I can’t deny the world class service that comes with a ship of this type. My room is cleaned daily, the food is top notch, the pool is always sparkling in the sunshine and the crew takes such pride in their work that it has inspired the lot of us to work to our highest standard.

Our first port was Nassau, Bahamas where the ship is registered and we picked up the majority of the passengers. The view from the ship was amazing as we sailed into port. The water was so blue that it is hard to describe, the air was warm and I swear it smelled sweet. As the PILOT boat came to guide us into our berth, off in the distance we could see the super resort ATLANTIS taunting us with promises of sexy, grown folks fun. The Bahamas includes an estimated 700 islands and only 30 or so are inhabited. New Providence is the island home of Nassau, the capital and home to almost 100,000 people. Though New Providence is only 21 miles long and 7 miles wide, it is home to more than two-thirds of the country’s residents. Including these guys on Jet Skis!

We sailed into Prince George Dock and immediately tumbled into the Hairbraider’s Center and the Straw Market. At the Hairbraider’s Center you can get your hair braided a la Bo Derek for about $1US per strand, and you can have it your way: with or without beads, with colorful yarn or ribbons weaved in,etc. The six blocks that comprise the heart of Nassau are easy to navigate and we traipsed around shaking our heads at the mixture of colonial charm and western development (Starbucks anyone?).

This didn’t stop us from strolling Bay Street and the aforementioned Straw Market which was full of trinkets, curios, and bargain priced hand-crafted items-but be warned, most of this stuff is imported and chintzy, so give things a good look over. I was so put off by the low quality that I didn’t buy a single thing the entire 4 days we were there. I did however enjoy strolling and peeking in the galleries and my nerd like tendencies necessitated a visit to Parliament Square, the Bahamian Government’s operating center.

We clowned around and took pictures near the stern-faced statue of Queen Victoria and admired the early 1800’s architecture. Because it is so tourist oriented, the main drag closes around 6pm each night as most cruise ships only stay for a day or two and offer more entertainment than the small town, so we bid Bay Street adieu after picking up some duty free refreshment.

Paradise Island was a spectacle of a different sort. Across a long toll bridge lies the sister island to New Providence and home to the mega-resort Atlantis. Paradise Island is a mere four miles long and a half mile wide with pink sands and a nightlife that will satisfy almost every desire and curiosity. Atlantis sits on 14 acres and boasts over 2000 rooms, 21 different restaurants/cafes, 16 bars, 9 swimming pools and an Aquarium. I just had to see it for my own eyes and it was definitely Disney meets Las Vegas. We snuck onto the property/beach and strolled the property trying to look like we belonged there, and enjoyed the pink sands, care-free vibe and diversity of humanity at play.

Anyone who knows me knows that Nassau/Atlantis/Paradise Island isn’t my cup of tea. I’m glad I got to see it, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend any money there outside of food and drink. My favorite Bahamian hangout so far is Eleuthera, one of the out islands that stretches 100 miles long and a scant 2 miles wide, and its sisters: Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.

During a 2001 trip to Eleuthera, we flew into Governor’s Harbor which boasts and airport about the size of an average house in the US, complete with someone’s laundry hanging out to dry in the sunshine and all. I loved the sparseness of the island which has about 8000 residents. We rented a house through and had the entire beach to ourselves. We rented a car and when we went to pick up the (rather weather-worn) Buick, we were told there was no need for a credit card deposit because there was no way we could get off the island without the owner of the rental agency knowing. They literally threw us the keys and shooed us off with a map and a recommendation to carry water wherever we went.

We spent the week snorkeling, cracking open coconuts from the trees around the house with a ginormous knife, driving out to Tarpum Bay and watching the stingrays from the Glass Window (a lookout point that boasts the Atlantic on one side and the Caribbean on the other). We ate at Cocodimama’s, Rosie’s and various Conch Salad stands, and even had some Caribbean lobster. Though I love the vibe and weather of the Bahamas in general, I definitely recommend a visit to the out islands.

Next Stop: Puerto Rico
Previously: Fantastic Voyage

Round The World in 100 Days: Fantastic Voyage

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success. ” -attributed to a 1901 Times of London newspaper ad allegedly placed by Ernest Shackleton, famous explorer and sailor.

In the “You Lucky Dog” category, I’ll be heading out shortly for more than 100 days of round the world (RTW) travel by sea. I’m thick in the throes of prepping for almost 4 months aboard the ship MV Explorer and praying that this voyage will be less susceptible than Shackleton’s to things like pirates, mutiny, and beri-beri.

After 9 years, 3 applications, and some good juju, I was selected for a post with Semester at Sea (SAS). Now I’m going to attempt to circumnavigate the globe without leaving the earth’s surface-which means I’ll have to endure the scary prospect of traveling overland from San Diego back home to the east coast. I’m looking forward to an amazing , once-in-a-lifetime voyage as we sail east around the globe from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to:

Nassau, Bahamas
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Salvador, Brazil
Cape Town, South Africa
Port Louis, Mauritius
Chennai, India
Penang, Malaysia
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Hong Kong
Qingdao, China
Kobe, Japan
Honolulu, Hawaii
San Diego, California

SAS is an academic study abroad program that uses a converted cruise ship as a floating university campus to educate the students on these popular voyages through both classroom techniques and field experiences, in a host of countries around the world.

The program also had its 15 minutes of mainstream fame, when it was featured on a season of MTV’s “Road Rules.” I am smitten with the fact that there are community service opportunities in nearly every port and the students have a long history for generosity of time and money on these forays into second and third-world areas. In the fall they sail west around the world, and in the summer they concentrate on a region such as Latin America or Europe.

Our trip as I mentioned, sails east chasing the rising sun, which means we should have pretty good weather, but we will lose 24 hours in a series of daylight savings time-esque one hour “spring forwards” as we circle the globe, the good news is that we’ll get a “Groundhog Day”-like experience when we live April 30th twice when we cross the international date line.

I first learned of SAS during a trip to Kenya with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) where I ran into an SAS alumni who was there volunteering with the Peace Corps. Nolan raved about the program and how it changed his life by expanding his view of the world and his place in it. My alma mater (The University of Virginia) recently became the academic sponsor for the program and my conversation with Nolan and subsequent research ignited my passion for the program back in 1997.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to live at the intersection of two of my passions-travel and education. And so, I am raiding Blue Ridge Mountain Sports with a giftcard I got for Christmas, and Wal-Mart for all things waterproof. I’ve been stocking up on my favorite gum, favorite chapstick, ziploc bags, and downloading so much music that my iPod is so hot its about to catch fire. And yes, I did download “The Love Boat“, everything by The Captain & Tennille, and I love “Wish I” by Jem, so I’m fired up from head to Teva’d toe (actually I’m all about my Crocs these days) for this trip.

I’ve been working hard to get my day-to-day life together to a point where I can travel like this, seize these types of opportunities and combine my many hobbies, passions, and interests with any excuse to hit the road. I left full-time work last February, and I have been freelancing and traveling since then, so the offer to join SAS came at a perfect time in my life where I find myself free of many of the usual restrictions, responsibilities, and obligations (is anybody hating me right now?).

While I am enjoying this lifestyle, it does have its own sacrifices. Chief among them are not having my own home which means I sleep on Disney themed sheets, in a single bed, in the bottom bunk of my nephew’s room when I’m not wandering.

I can’t wrap my head around traveling with 900 other people this way, and I do wonder how it will alter the experience. I’m not a strictly solo traveler. I like traveling all sorts of ways and my last trip (3.5 months in Mexico) included a stint with The Green Tortoise (adventure travel with 30 other people), mostly solo travel, and travel with friends at various points throughout the journey. Each experience was amazing in its own way and for its own reasons.

I love traveling by myself and without a schedule or a plan. This trip will be the antithesis of that, with carefully plotted arrivals and departures. I enjoy those lazy travel days when reading a whole book or taking hours to stroll through a museum seem like the most amazing of accomplishments. And who doesn’t enjoy being able to run off to Borneo when you had initially thought that Burma was where you’d head next?

I have traveled pretty widely but I’ve never been to any of the places on our itinerary so my excitement includes a learning curve both intellectual (learning about each country) and personal (scaling plans down to my absolute “must see/must do” items).

Though I’ve never been on a large ship before, I have sailed on schooners, dhows, and pangas, so I’m relatively sure that I’m not prone to seasickness. However I admit that I have an acute fear of open water and an irrational fear of heights, and in my opinion a ship of this size combines the worst of those two elements! After reading Iva’s “Murder on the High Seas” post, I’m not taking any chances. I might have to spring for this Gadget or this Watch, just in case someone pushes me overboard.

Fortunately, my curiosity gets the better of me and I haven’t let either of these anxieties stop me before. I’ve snorkeled off the coast of Kenya, pet a 16m Grey Whale, and sailed through the most amazing biolumenescence you can imagine. So I am confident that I’ll face these fears head on because there’s no way I’m not getting on that ship for the trip of a lifetime. Join me as we chase the sun at 20 mph.

I have already had so many e-mails from people offering to be my: husband, wife, sherpa, cabin boy, porter, chambermaid, best friend, etc. that I’m considering starting an e-bay bid for the extra bed in my cabin.

Quiz: 10 Question from Fact Monster

We are enjoying the good, the bad and the angry comments that you all are leaving after the two quizzes we posted. In particular the How Well Traveled are You? quiz from last week even got my mom upset. She insisted that I call someone and suggest that they add more cities and countries to reflect the true travel diva that she is (many of you had the same issue with the narrowness of the locations surveyed).

Since we have had so much fun the past couple of weeks, we figured we’d hit you with another fun way to break up the work day, and plot your escape from the corporate cubicle. Try this short 10 question quiz written by Amanda Kudler over at Fact Monster. This one is a fun mix of geography and world history. I was stumped on a few but used my superpowers to guess correctly and rocked out an embarassing 80%. For shame!

It’s not too late to let us know how you fare with the How Well Traveled are You? and the What’s Your Travel Personality? quizzes. Come back and let us know how you do on the Fact Monster Quiz, hopefully you trump my 8 out of 10! Let us know how you do in the comments, we are having fun reading your results and reactions, even yours Mom.

Travel Deity: Terah Shelton

I haven’t met Terah Shelton face-to-face yet, but she’s one of my favorite people in the travel space. We’ve traded e-mails on various travel topics and she’s also a golf afficionado (which means she can do no wrong in my book).

She’s very accessible despite her busy schedule traveling, photographing some amazing places, blogging and oh, did I mention that she teaches a travel writing class at Emory University in Atlanta, GA? You got it folks, she gets to travel, then she writes about it for us armchair adventurers, then she gets paid to tell other people how to do it! How do I sign up for that job?

Course Description:
Do you dream of wandering the back alleys in Venice, climbing Machu Picchu, or taking an African safari? Don’t think you can afford it? Well, you can! Learn to travel the world on a shoestring budget by using secret budget tips and methods from a veteran budget traveler and freelance travel writer. You’ll learn to define your travel personality, establish your budget traveler status, and prepare a daily budget. By the end of class, armed with learned strategies, you’ll be well on your way to Paris, Peru, or Phnom Penh!

Now I’m not saying I’m not happy with my own lifestyle right about now, but Terah is definitely taking the professional travel writing gig to a whole new level. I love her friday updates on her goals, professional targets for the week/month, and future travel events. I’m insatiably curious so I am interested in what other travelers are reading, rocking in their iPods, or where they’re headed next and Terah’s blog doesn’t disappoint.

This multi-talented multi-tasking diva even even finds time to manage Traveler’s Pen, a resource for all of your perplexing travel questions, and is a frequent contributor to Vagablond. Her next class starts May 17th and online courses are coming soon!