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Summer Odyssey 3.1 (or, Summer Od) – Northern California!

I know I’ve been missing for awhile, but fear not, I’m hanging in there. I’ve been on the go on my first trek of the summer. Currently, I’m in Towson, on the third leg of this go-round. The first two were last week: Tuesday-Thursday in San Francisco, California, and Thursday-Saturday in Berkeley before arriving in Washington on Sunday, and I’ll be here in Baltimore until Monday.

To recap:

I decided to bite the bullet this year and go to the theatre conference I usually don’t or can’t go to, LMDA. This year, it happened to be in Berkeley, and California seemed like an appealing change of scenery from Wisconsin, so off I went. The conference is only 2.5 days unlike the 4 days of ATHE (which is this August in Vegas!) so rather than fly to the West Coast and screw up my body clock for just a few days, I decided to add on two days at the beginning and play tourist in San Francisco, which I have not seen since I was about 7 or 8. Also, Ciara moved there last year to be a flight attendant on United, so I could spend some time catching up with her.

Day 1: Up at 7 AM to catch my super-early flight to Denver, with a 2-hour layover there before getting to San Francisco. The airport there is really confusing, and it took me about an hour to figure out how to get out of there and get to my Airbnb, which was in the Excelsior District. My hostess, Kate, was an absolute treasure, and the accommodations were spacious and comfortable; I’d absolutely stay there again.

My first goal of the trip was to get my National Park Passport stamped from any/all of the sites in San Francisco, and since it was 3:30 PM, I had to hustle in order to get to any of them, the closest of which was an hour away. So I made my first quasi-mistake of the trip, taking the bus there. I got there on time and in one piece, but I forgot that San Francisco has hills, so I spent most of that hour clutching my bag on my lap and keeping my eyes shut to keep myself from passing out/throwing up. Eventually, we made it to the Presidio, where I got stamps for Golden Gate NRA. The park rangers told me about a few more stamping stations around the Presidio, including one that was open until 6 PM (it was 4:50 when I got to the Presidio Visitors’ Center, and they closed at 5), so I caught the free shuttle to the bridge lookout at Crissy Field. Fort Point had a separate stamp, but alas, they were only open on weekends, so next time for me.

The Golden Gate Bridge is pretty, and I hummed the Full House theme song in my head as I took pictures and tried to sidestep the crowds of foreigners and the Jehovah’s Witnesses set up in English and Japanese (I swear, they’re everywhere these days). However, there’s not too much to do there other than photo ops and overpriced snacks (at least not at 5 PM, so I waited for the free shuttle back to the Presidio, since I didn’t have a car or another way back. Another mistake there; had I walked or taken a cab/Uber, I wouldn’t have had to wait the hour I waited for the free shuttle. And it wasn’t just an hour, it was an hour in chilly bay winds, and I was in short sleeves. Eventually I made it back to the Presidio, and a friendly lady on the bus told me to check out Chestnut Street for dinner.

I ended up spending the last hour of sunlight in a busy Starbucks, recharging my phone, which was almost dead at that point, and eating a late lunch. Dinner was Thai food at a place called Blackwood. I had some spicy ahi tuna while watching all the yuppies hop between wine bars before heading back to the Airbnb for the evening, during which I made my third mistake, leaving my phone in the Uber. Luckily, I managed to contact the guy, who brought it back to me at 11 the next morning. Still, it was strange and confusing being without my phone for 12 hours (mostly because I was staying in a stranger’s house, in a strange city, where I knew basically no one).

Day 2: Wednesday.

I stayed up worrying about my phone, but when I woke up, I realized that it probably wouldn’t look good for the Uber driver to steal my phone – I could go on the website and write a bad review, which would have been sad because he was really nice to me in the car – but after an hour of worrying (he promised to drop it by at 10), he came by with it at 11. Kate was really nice throughout the whole thing; she made me coffee and kept me company while I waited. It was sad to leave her the next day.

Next up was…lunch with Ciara! We had a happy reunion and caught up on our lives over fresh fish at Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf. Then, we walked to the San Francisco Maritime museum, which was really informative, plus I got some stamps. I bought her some chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, and after a quick Starbucks (where we made a birthday video for Alex), we walked to Chinatown, which was really fun. Even though I’m not the biggest shopper, I just couldn’t pass it up, and ended up spending about 15 dollars on a gift for Kate for helping me out (a calligraphy of her name in Chinese characters in a red cardboard frame), a bracelet, and 2 cute toy panda keychains, on sale for 99 cents. I wanted to get a rayon jacket to replace the one I lost, but they were pretty expensive, and Ciara said she’d get one for me for a quarter of the price the next time she had a layover in China or Taiwan.

We ended the day back at Ciara’s place, with Netflix and Middle Eastern food delivery, before I Ubered back to Kate’s place and packed up for the next leg of the trip – the conference itself, in Berkeley.

My fingers are getting tired, so stay tuned for a recap of parts 2 and 3 of the trip – part 2 is the conference in Berkeley, and part 3 is the part I’m currently on, which started on Sunday night at a banquet in my sister’s honor in DC, followed by a whole lot of sleeping, and will conclude next Sunday with my cousin’s wedding in Potomac.

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From Isla del Encanto to Charm City USA

I am now in Baltimore, so that happened.

This past week has gone by super fast and it’s only now that I realize that I haven’t chronicled anything in my life for a week or so. I’ve spent most of the past week being tired (and now, for some reason, a little sick, possibly due to a drafty house or my dad’s driving) so I’ll do the best I can to keep it from being completely lost to memory.

Thursday, July 31: Actual date of Ponce trip, amended from the previous day. I woke up and Isabel’s apartment was so quiet that I thought she might have gone to work, so I prepared to have another lazy day until she called me. Then Axel emerged, and apparently Isabel had been working in the back room the whole time and was waiting for me to get up! We were fixing to go to Ponce, just the two of us, due to Riley not answering my texts or calls.

We were just about to get into the car when we realized that I’d forgotten a swimsuit and towel, and just as I had retrieved those items and was locking Isabel’s front door, Riley calls and asks what we’re up to. A short but hilarious conversation later, we were on our way to pick him up in Carolina for the day’s adventures.

The drive to Ponce was about two hours long, through an amazing variety of landscapes. The tropical greenery of San Juan transformed into the arid, barren mountains of central Puerto Rico; from jungle to desert, practically. We drove past several scary-looking bush fires that may or may not have been natural, who knows.

Arriving in Ponce, Riley immediately commented that it felt hotter; it actually did, strangely enough. We walked to the Plaza las Delicias and had a reasonably-priced lunch there. For the evening, we thought it would be fun to explore the nearby Bio Bay (the one with the bacteria that light up when you touch the water) so Isabel went off with her phone to make the arrangements while Riley and I took a walk around town and had some coffee. We met up with Isabel soon after at a bookstore, where she informed us that even though we probably would not be able to swim in the bay, we could definitely get an inexpensive boat tour. Before that, though, we explored town some more and found a geocache; Isabel’s first ever, and it was hilarious watching her get so excited. We tried another one, but it led us to this awesome art-garden-park thing with massive light-up sculptures so it wasn’t too bad of a walk. On the way back to the car, we saw some adorable stray puppies and watched them play.

The earlier hustle and bustle of Ponce was gone, as were we, off to Lajas, in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. An hour after leaving Ponce, we reached La Parguera in Lajas, which seemed like a cross between a backpacker’s stop and the Catskills. Apparently, Lajas is not a well-known destination outside of Puerto Rico, so it was likely that Riley and I were the only two Americans in town. At the docks, we got tickets for $8 on a Bio Bay tour boat, with about 100 or so of our closest and loudest friends. The trip itself only took an hour, and the bio bay was cool with the glowing water, but what was more impressive was the lightning storm off in the distance and the bright, bright stars overhead, especially when the boat stopped and turned off its lights in the middle of the Bio Bay so we could better see the water. Four guys jumped from the top of the ship and swam around, which was pretty cool, and despite learning the contrary, we could indeed, if we wanted, get into our swimsuits and jump in the water. Well, if we didn’t mind about a four-story jump followed by a climb back up. We seriously considered jumping but with the possibility of broken glasses (Isabel), lost contacts (me), and broken bones/drowning/not being able to swim back to the ship (all three of us, I suppose) we just watched from above. It would have been cool to swim in it though. When we docked, the guys who jumped were passing a hat to collect money, which was kind of expected.

By this point we were a little hungry. Riley tried tiburon, or shark, in a sandwich, to which I said, “no thanks, but enjoy” and Isabel and I shared some fish nuggets, mofongo (mashed plantain balls), and amarillos (sweet plantains). It was about 11 PM at this point, so we phoned it in and I drove us back to San Juan, where we arrived after 1 AM and zzzz….

Friday, August 1st: Slept in (well deserved) and said goodbye to Isabel and Axel to head over to Riley’s place in Carolina for Phase II of Operation Puerto Rico Vacation. Riley’s place in Carolina was quite different from Isabel’s in San Juan, but as soon as I dropped my stuff off and changed, we were out to Isla Verde for a night of dancing and debauchery. I practiced a bit of my ballroom moves but mostly danced to the hits of the 70s and 80s. It was basically a Bar Mitzvah without the torah reading. That was only the beginning of the night; the remaining details I cannot divulge but suffice it to say that it was 4:30 when we got back to Riley’s.

Saturday, August 2nd: Tropical Storm Bertha decided to pay a visit so it was mostly an indoors type of day. It was an adventure staying at Riley’s apartment, but after one night there I suggested we take a meta-vacation and check into a hotel back in San Juan so we could really enjoy the last few days together. So we headed over to the Doubletree San Juan for a vacation-within-a-vacation, regrouped, and had dinner at Plaza de las Americas, the biggest mall in the Caribbean. I’m not a huge mall fan, but it was very sleek as far as malls go.

Sunday, August 3rd: Back on the adventure trail! They said, “go west, young man,” so go west we did, along the northern coast of Puerto Rico. Our goal was to get to Isabela or Aguadilla. We did a few stops along the way, both for geocaches: first, at a lookout point in Quebradillas that we later learned is one of the premier lookout points on the island, with mountains in one direction and beach in the others, and second, in Isabela, at a giant stone carving of a man which actually turned out to be not-so-ancient. We turned north slightly and took a smaller road through the tiny, windy town of Isabela and ended up on Villa Pesquera, a rocky beach. The waves breaking along the rocks were incredible to see, as well as the tide pools and the huge crabs hanging out in them (didn’t get too close though!) At a swimming beach nearby, Riley went for a snorkel while I relaxed in the shallow water and the low, gentle waves, protected by the rocky spit that absorbed most of the impact of the crashing water.

After maybe an hour there, we drove towards Aguadilla, where Isabel’s favorite Thai restaurant is. We arrived at the place only to find that due to the tropical storm delaying a shipment of supplies, they had limited options, so we backtracked to the next best option, Golden Crown. Cultural (con)fusion notwithstanding, it was a really good Chinese place, despite being in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, which is as far from China as you can get. Although not getting to see Aguadilla proper, we headed back to San Juan after a day full of fun.

Sunday, August 4th: Final day of the trip 😦 although I would get to see my parents that night, so 🙂 for that. Wakeup was early so we could check out of the hotel and I could drop Riley off. Before I had to return the car, though, I went on a little adventure of my own.

I drove east, picking out a geocache near El Yunque National Rainforest as my goal. Isabel said it should be less than an hour, and indeed it was, only forty minutes from busy San Juan to the middle of the rainforest. It was raining heavily the whole way there, but as soon as I paid the entry fee and parked at El Portal, the visitor center at the entrance to the forest, the sky cleared up and the sun came out. Due to a landslide, most of the park was closed, but the visitor center offered great views and geographically we were in the rainforest, so, I’ll take it. I found the geocache and after a short walk around, went further east to see what Puerto Rico had to offer.

I found myself in Luquillo, known for some of the prettiest beaches on the island, and it did not disappoint. It was Monday but it felt like a lazy Sunday as I rolled in, parked, took a walk, and had a leisurely final breakfast of huevos rancheros, iced coffee, and crepes with banana and Nutella. After finding a geocache at a nearby park and mailing postcards from the Luquillo Post Office, which wasn’t even on the map, I headed back to San Juan to return the car and return home. Suffice it to say that it was not a fun experience at all, and by the time I got to the airport I was good and ready to get back home, which I did shortly after midnight, San Juan-Charlotte-Baltimore.

August 5, 6, 7: Basically, nothing…a few days of actual vacation-like vacation, doing nothing important and eating home-cooked food. Highlights of my time here have been getting to see my sister and bake challah with her and my dad; getting a tour of the neighborhood with my mom and dad and seeing how it’s changed since January; taking a quick jaunt to Washington; and getting my teeth cleaned and hair cut. Exciting stuff, I know.

But it’s good to be home, even though in one week and two days I’ll be back in action and back in Madison. I’ll have my parents with me for a few days, but then it’s goodbye summer, hello 2nd year of PhD. Also, hello to my newest visitor, my first from Tunisia.