July 28, 2009

When defamed, the poor frogs can only chirp back

Category: Biella's_Guide_to_Puerto_Rico,Humor — Biella @ 6:32 am

One of the most distinctive things about Puerto Rico is its national frog: the coqui. Though tiny, its chirp is loud (visitors without a/c say “effing” deafening).

Last week I found one frozen and thus dead in my freezer, which was a little bit of a shock to see and a surprise as I don’t know how it leaped up there. It must have been that hot.. (and it has been so hot that it can make even the most calm animals crazy). But anyway, I went on a bit of a google rampage to learn more about the frog and found this great site about its life and travails in Hawaii.

You see, somehow someone trucked a few frogs over and now they are taking over and apparently Hawaiians, for the most part, are far from pleased. This website offers a strong defense of the frog and notes how they are “are victims of calculated character defamation..” My response: long live the coqui and protect him and her against pollution, freezers, and especially defamation.

July 16, 2009

Biella’s Guide to PR: MUSAC

Category: Biella's_Guide_to_Puerto_Rico — Biella @ 8:28 am

Music. It is in the air, in people’s blood, on the streets, and pulsing through people’s hands and feet. As with many ex-slave societies, since music could not be hammered out of people’s bodies, it became a privileged vehicle for protest, for survival, for cultural transmission. It is for this reason the musical traditions in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, in Dominican Republic, in Colombia and many other similar places are electrifying. So if you come to Puerto Rico, watching some live music is in order. I will keep this brief, but here are some spots with great live music:

In Old San Juan, you might want to check out The Nuyorican and Rumba

In Rio Piedras, there is a great music collective Taller Ce (with one of most frustrating websites I have ever seen, sorry to be so blunt but true.. but hey they are musicians not web developers and designers). Along with great music, there is a lawyer who holds weekly Salsa classes to fund his environmental law classes. (double hawt).

In Santurce, you can find La Repuesta the spot with some of the most innovative and varied shows in the metro area.

I will be going there tomorrow night, Friday July 17, to see one of my favorite bands recently featured on NPR the Fantasmes. They are hard to characterize, genre wise, but one thing is clear: they have a very hypnotic and dreamy quality to their music.

July 13, 2009

Biella’s Guide to PR: Memorable Events, Monumental Caves

White Winged Vampire bats Dan Riskin

Life as we live on a daily basis tends to be filled with a parade of events, happenings, frustrations, and joys that don’t strike like lightening. Life moves along, taking people along for a series of personal transformations that for the most part don’t feel particularly important. You only notice, many years after the fact, that things have changed. But there are those momentous events—a particularly traumatic accident, a death of a loved one, the end or start of a new project, an amazing piece of news—that leaves its imprint with you, announcing its undeniable role in changing the self or your perception of the world.

Yesterday I went on an amazing trip through the caves of Puerto Rico withAventuras Tierra Adentro and in specific caves filled with water, an underground river snaking its way through the rocks, the mud, the bats, (and unfortunately the roaches but hey, they are part of natural habitat) that make up a vast underwater river system in the northwest part of the island.

I first went on this very trip when I was 16 and it was one of those momentous, memorable events that struck like lightening. At the time, I was a budding environmentalist having recently started the first environmental club at my school, mostly recycling all the cans at school (my car was thus appropriately dubbed “the recycle-mobile). I would also organize fund-raising events such as the infamous milkshake sale (trying to outdo the usual bake sales) and send the proceeds to the most radical environmental group I knew of at the time (Earth First) to save the dolphins or turtles or whatever needed saving at the time. I also knew that the group that did anything together, stuck together, so I organized a caving adventure with the environmental club.

The trip was then as it is now, utterly breathtaking (and at points leaves you with no breath) and has only improved since the first time I made the trek, as I will explain in a moment. The first time I did it, it left its mark on my life in many many ways. Until that trip, I had never really experienced the full blown glory and mystery that is the natural world. I was exhilarated by the exhausting hike that “touched me” by basically, at the time, mangling my body. The day after the trip, I literally could not get out of my bed … for hours. That was not because the trip was (or is) so outrageously hard. The guides are completely amazing and while challenging, it is fine if you have an iota of fitness; it was just I was, like many peers of my age on the island, a rum drinking, smoke inhaling teenager who did not have an iota of fitness.

After the trip, while I was lying immobile in bed due to the pain, talking to my friends on the phone who found themselves in a similar embarrassing predicament, I decided, never again. Despite the pain, I decided I liked using my body, I really liked the outdoors, and well, it was high time to stop sucking on the smokey smokes and turn my energies and body to the natural world.

I did not quit the smokes overnight (I tried, I failed) but the desire was sparked and eventually I quit. Almost immediately, I started doing more outdoorsy stuff, decided not to go to college and become a scuba diving researcher on a Chinese junk sailing boat, and then when I eventually made my way to school, I became an Ultimate Frisbee junkie, and worked for eco-type camps for many summers. That caving trip was the catalyst that led me down a new path and I was reminded of this yesterday, which left me thankfully not as sore, but equally exhilarated.

Ok, so this is a guide to PR, so let me back away from personal ramblings to why you should take this trip if you find yourself on the island. Well, first let me state the obvious: this trip throws you smack inside a cave and caves are freaken effing amazing even more so when there is a river running through it.

But let’s get to specifics:

These tour operators, who have been doing this trip and others for over 20 years, have got this trip so nailed down that they have thought of every damn detail to make the adventure fun and safe. Now, the trip starts at a god awful time 5:45 AM (but it is done for your safety to avoid the afternoon rains, which can lead to a flash flood). To help you stay awake as they orient you, they have come up with comedy routine during the bus ride, which I personally found really funny (I am pretty easy when it comes to humor), and it was a great way to communicate the safety information to a half awake audience.


July 1, 2009

Biella’s Guide to PR: Cafe con Leche

Category: Biella's_Guide_to_Puerto_Rico,Coffee,Puerto Rico — Biella @ 4:16 am

coffee roaster, originally uploaded by the biella.

What would life be without coffee? It frightens me to entertain a life without the stuff as it is one my most favorite things in the world. Some nights I am excited to go to bed just so I can wake up and have my cup of joe (I am not one of the Fortunate Ones who can drink coffee at night).

A few mornings a week I decide I would rather sit at a coffee shop to sip on my morning joe and I am quite lucky in this regard because I live down the street from what I think is the best local coffee shop in the metropolitan area: Hacienda San Pedro, which is also a local plantation, one of the many you can visit for the day.

They roast their coffee on premises (which they are doing right now) in a very cool old fashioned looking roaster, also pictured above, which they seem to do between 7 AM and -8AM when I tend to be here. When you step outside after the roasting you walk through a billowing and light poof of coffee smoke, which is like being blessed by the gods of coffee before starting your day.

The great thing about the coffee aside from its taste is the price. The cup featured below is around $ 1.60 which beats the 3 dollars you would pay at a Starbucks, which have, in the last 3 years, infested and infected the island. Given that so much coffee is grown here, it is great to see these sorts of places sprout and serve the local stuff.

mac with ubuntu and bill!>

They have a good selection of baked goods for b-fest, free wireless (yay!), and great music playing, usually something like Silivio Rodirguez or some reggae. After you are done, you can head to the museum right down the street, which not only has a great collection of local and international art, but a great peaceful garden, and one of my favorite murals.

The coffee shop is located at Avenida De Diego #318 (though there is no number out front, but there is a banner). Basically it is between the highway overpass in Condado, which is right next to the art museum and a large avenue called Ponce de Leon, which resides in the heart of Santurce.

Currently, they are open Mon-Friday from 6:30 to 6, on Sat open from 9 to 3:30 and closed on Sunday.

June 27, 2009

Biella’s Guide to Puerto Rico: El Yunque, The “Rock” and Luquillo

Category: Biella's_Guide_to_Puerto_Rico,Puerto Rico — Biella @ 5:04 pm

El Yunque, The "Rock", originally uploaded by the biella.

Every island kid has been dragged at least once, probably multiple times, to the meandering roads that eventually lead to the Puerto Rican National Rain Forest, El Yunque. One can leave the bustling capital and in about 1 hour find yourself in the smack middle of a tropical rainforest. Once there, you can check out the falls, take a dip in one of the pools “charcos” or take a more challenging hike to reach one of the handful exposed rocks where there are stellar views of the forest and beyond.

I have many memories of this place, most of them great. My parents used to drag me and my sister there at least once a year to “ohh and ahhh” at the small waterfalls on the side of the roads. On occasion we would hike for all of 20 minutes before heading to the beach. In high school, my friends would visit occasionally and then when I worked for an environmental camp after I graduated from high school, I found myself there for days, sleeping under the soggy skies and amidst the unbelievably loud coquis (who sing to mark their tiny territory and attract the ladies, naturally).

Now, like most things on this island, there are serious mistakes to be made when doing anything, whether it is going to the movies (as Micah and I found out last night) as well as hitting the rainforest. All of this is due to one problem: this island is uber-populated and everyone also naturally loves to do stuff…. so the name of the game is often crowds and crowds and crowds.

So, first lesson about El Yunque: If you can avoid going on the weekend, absolutely do so, especially during the summer. It will be much easier to find parking (which is often on the side of the road) and the trails will be less crowded (though that means less chance of hearing some 13 year old kid screaming that he found the Chupacabra, as we were so lucky to hear today). But if you plan on swimming in one of the watering holes/falls, I would avoid the weekend like the plague. Well unless you love swimming in the midst of screaming, though admittedly quite joyful, kids.

Once you enter the preserve, it is worth your while to go to the visitor’s center, which costs a few bucks per person (the park cost nothing to get in, but well, giving a few bucks to a rainforest seems like right thing to do). There you can learn a little more about its history, get a map, and get a first view of the forest since the center is architecturally as it should be: open and airy so it basically bleeds into the canopy of trees.

If you want to hike, there are a handful of trails and many are paved but the longer, more challenging ones are not. The two I recommend are The Trade Winds Trail (which is like not officially kept up, but is kick ass) and El Yunque Trail.

Finding the Trade Winds Trail is a little tricky as it at the end of the road behind the yellow gates and then you have to walk a few more minutes until you see this sign. Here are some more detailedinstructions for finding it. I have slept on this trail, have hiked for 5 hours on it without seeing a soul, and apparently it is even longer…

Another trail, which is definitely worth a whirl, is the El Yunque Trail. There are great instructions if you follow the previous link so I won’t repeat them here. What I like about this is that there is 1) a pygmy forest (I just like saying that phrase) and a grand slam ending, with a beautiful view and when it is totally clear (today was not so clear as the Saharan sands, for reals, were in the air), you can see to the ocean. If it is not clear, it is still pretty nice and in fact, being in the middle of a cloud is just as enchanting as a clear sky and good views.


Biella’s Guide to Puerto Rico

Category: Biella's_Guide_to_Puerto_Rico — Biella @ 5:04 pm

Although I really appreciate sites like Wikitravel, I often find the entries frustratingly thin. Everything is noted but without much emotion or elaboration,which is of course their stylistic format, which makes total sense. But let’s face it: it is hard to read through the lines and figure out what one MUST do in the three days they are in whatever location. There is just very little meat to sink your teeth on, especially when needing to make some quick decisions about what to do and what not to do.

Since I am in Puerto Rico for the rest of the summer and I have traveled up and around the island many times, I thought I would dedicate part of this blog to Biella’s Guide to Puerto Rico. For those that will never visit, you can ignore the series of posts though I do plan on peppering with information that might nonetheless be interesting or not, depending, I guess on my narrative.

I will mostly concentrate on what I will be doing this summer, which is only a small fraction of what I have done and what there is to do since I am for the most part, parked in front of this very computer writing a book. But the mind needs its rest and for me rest means playing at the beach, in the forest, in caves, and listening to some good music. So in this spirit, I will start with today (separate post) as I went on a hike in the national rain forest of the island, El Yunque and the beach Puerto Rican’s love to frequent, Luquillo.