Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Puerto Rico: Part II

Having three rental cars and staying at two different locations meant a bit of natural grouping as we went about our way.  We spent most of Day 1 with Brett and Lisa, most of our travel time with Skye, Michelle, and got to spend most of Day 5 with Jack.  As we moved in and out of these smaller groups, we would all come back together with funny stories of the day to share.  Whether it was recounting that Suman thought there would be pandas (because there was bamboo…), that Jack screamed like a girl when a bat flew by him, that Dad fell into a river face first, or that Lisa heckled the person in the kayak next to her (thinking it was Michelle), telling stories about each other was one of the most fun parts of the trip.  Here are my favorite stories about each of my 9 travel companions.  For fun, I’ve listed them oldest to youngest.

Day 1 found us in Old San Juan, touring the defensive military forts once used to protect the island.  After stopping to eat lunch between the two major castilles, Dad suggested we get a family picture near a particularly valiant looking sheep statue.  We gathered around, Jack recruited a nearby ice cream vendor to take our picture, and we posed.  Dad was a bit disappointed, however, assuming he would get in trouble if he chose to sit atop the sheep.  When one of the local police decided to photo bomb our picture, my mom asked if my dad would be allowed to sit up there.  He looked a bit confused by the question, then shrugged and responded, “We say nothing…” then continued to contemplate, “… except maybe be careful?”  So Dad climbed up on the sheep statue, reminding me that one of my dad’s best qualities is enduring ability to stay young.

Before we left for Puerto Rico, my mom explained that she had decided not to participate in the zip lines, because being terrified really isn’t her definition of fun.  She asked that we not tease her about her decision or pressure her into changing it, so we were all very surprised when at the last second she had me sign her up for our reservations.  I remember witnessing her fear of heights once as a child when the small ferris wheel at Liberty Park got stuck with us at the top, and I knew I couldn’t even imagine what it must be like for her to strap on the safety gear and head out to that first zip line.  She managed each of the first seven runs, seemingly glad to be up there with the rest of us.

It was on the 8th and final run, however, that I could see her start to waver just a bit.  This run stretched out over a huge canyon with nothing except open air in front of us.  Several people were not making it all the way across, meaning they were left to pull themselves in with their arms as they dangled by their safety harness over the canyon.  Suman went right before her, and he didn’t make it across.  Still, she stepped up and allowed herself to be hooked in.  Lisa, Michelle, and I watched as she went across, each hoping aloud that she would make it to the other side.  We watched her dot in distance slow to nearly a crawl, but it appeared she had never stopped moving.  Convinced she must have made it, we were surprised to find out that she had stopped short of the target and had to pull herself in, she had just done it so quickly we didn’t even know she had stopped.  It feels pretty awesome to know Mom would put herself through that just so she could hang out with us.  (I don't have a zip line picture, so I'm posting Mom trying the natural waterslide.)

Probably what I will remember most about Kirk from the trip was that every time we passed a Church’s Chicken restaurant, he yelled out, “Church’s Chicken!”  We passed a lot of them.  Just sayin’.  Pretty much any memory I can conjure of Kirk is one in which I was laughing.  So I will include this picture for posterity.  (His idea, of course.)

There are few people in this world who will, without question or reservation, go along with whatever foolish idea I come up with at 4:00 a.m.  I am very lucky that one of those people married my sister.  Our flights arrived at the San Juan airport around midnight on Friday, but we could not pick up our rental cars until 8:00 a.m.  This meant 8 hours together in the airport.  We were a bit surprised to find out that we had absolutely no furniture to sit on and no access to drinking fountains or restrooms during the night.  So we settled in to make the most of it.

The frequent TSA announcements in both English and Spanish got old really fast, so I proposed turning them into a game.  When the announcement was in English, the last person to put a hand on his or her head had to do 20 jumping jacks.  When in Spanish, the last person to touch a finger to his or her nose had to do 5 push ups.  Not only did Brett joyfully execute over 200 punishment jacks, but he was the first on board when I proposed the next level.  When English, we each had to run to touch one of the airport’s many support columns (no two people on one column, a different column than last time).  When Spanish, we had to stand on a nearby ledge.  It was Brett’s playful personality that had me running from column to column because he would consistently beat me there and who managed to block Michelle from standing on the ledge.  If I know I have to pull an all-nighter, I know I want Brett there with me.

Somehow when we chose teams for the game of football we played on a sandbar in the ocean, the split seemed a bit skewed.  The four youngest members of the family joined together on one team, leaving Dad, Mom, Lisa, Brett, and I on the other.  We were losing terribly, discovering that all it took was a long throw from Skye to Jack who was waiting idly in the end zone for their team to score.  Our team, on the other hand, had to carefully gain yardage on each of the four allowed downs.  On our final down, Dad had the ball and was scanning for an open teammate to throw it to.  Each of us was blocked by an opponent, until Lisa ran up the bank to ground higher than everyone.  Dad threw the ball, and Lisa scored the touchdown.  Her face beamed with pride, and I just thought, “That’s my sister!”  Sadly, I don't have a picture of that.  Instead, I'm posting a picture of her nursing her ant-bitten legs back to health.  Seriously, I have never seen ant bites swell like that!

While some of us had big fears to conquer and did so in highly visible ways, I watched Michelle push herself just one step further than her comfort zone whenever she could.  Her first day in the ocean, she headed out further than she had ever gone.  Although the rainforest vegetation reminded her of Jurassic Park, and she harbors a very literal fear of dinosaurs, she put up with family’s teasing and headed off into the jungles.  Though she couldn’t bring herself to squeeze through a cave’s small opening, she was willing to enter when Skye found a less claustrophobic tunnel.  When everyone was jumping off tall rocks and cliffs, she chose a ledge just out of her comfort zone and jumped from that.  She then completed several subsequent jumps, starting a little higher each time.  Not surprisingly, she did it all in her own quiet style, conquering Puerto Rico in her own way.  And yeah, if she's gonna make faces like this, I'm gonna post them.

My young, cool, brother-in-law has a bit of an addiction.  He is addicted to climbing stuff and jumping into water.  This trip provided three different locations for him to get his fix and two favorite moments I will remember.  The first was when he climbed up the rocky face of  La Niebla to get to a jumping place.  I watched as the waterfall beat down on him from above, and he carefully studied the rock for his next foothold.  I’ve never seen anybody look so at peace in their surroundings.  The second was when he stood at the top of La Cascada and chose not to jump.  After assessing the conditions, he decided it wasn’t safe.  Even though I am always impressed by the stuff he is willing to jump from, I was more impressed to see that he really does know how to keep himself safe.

Always the first to say, “I’m in,” whenever an adventure was mentioned, Jack signed up for the 5:00 a.m. departure group on Thursday.  Planned to include 5.5 hours of driving for 6.5 hours of adventure, we knew we had to hit the road early.  At 4:40, I checked his “bedroom” (he chose to sleep on a lawn chair in the laundry room) to make sure he was awake.  I expected to see my little brother, someone whom I would need to wake up and help supervise.  Instead, I saw a grown man, kneeling beside his lawn chair bed, with his hands clasped in prayer.  I quietly ducked back out, confident that my “little brother” can certainly handle himself, and teach his big sister a thing or two with his excellent example.  Also, he likes to climb stuff.

When I climbed to the top of the 25’ cliff to jump into the pooled river water, I saw Suman just hanging out up top.  I asked him if he was going to jump.  “I want to,” he said, “but I can’t find the courage.”  I explained to him that I didn’t have the courage either.  I had started on a smaller rock to test myself, and only after that felt fun did I decide to try the tall cliff.  I told him I would jump with him from the smaller rock if he wanted, and then if that felt fun to him, he could try the big cliff.  We both jumped from the shorter location, and then I got busy doing other things.  Several minutes later, Suman had climbed the cliff again, and he seemed ready to jump.  With the whole family cheering him on, he found his courage and made the jump.  I guess maybe I do still have a little brother to look out for.

Of course Puerto Rico itself was incredible.  But it was great to get a chance to remember how incredible the adults in our family can be without the distractions of our young kids.  Three long matches of 5 on 5 volleyball without anyone having to leave to settle a dispute, change a diaper, or plan around nap time?  That may honestly have been the best part of the whole trip.