THE ISLE OF ENCHANTMENT

In our seven days on the Isle of Enchantment, we undertook quite a bit. Spending three days in San Juan and driving through the rainforest and mountain in the center of the island to reach the second-largest city, Ponce, where we spent our remaining four days, we got to see and do just about everything we wanted to. And now, only a month later, I’m finally sharing the wonderful memories we made! As the pictures show, Jordan actually commanded both my digital and film camera about half of the time, resulting in an unnerving amount of photos of me, but since he’s got a good eye, not all of them are hideous ;)

THE CATHEDRAL OF RUM

While technically a Cuban rum since 1862, Bacardi has been produced in Puerto Rico since the 1960s and has headquarters in Bermuda. The Cathedral of Rum, as it’s aptly named, is an amazing look into the history of the largest privately held, family owned spirits company in the world. Even their iconic bat logo has a tie to the family - when Doña Amalia Bacardí, wife of the founder of Bacardi, spotted fruit bats in the distillery, she insisted that a bat should appear on every bottle. They’re also a symbol of good luck in Cuba!

We opted for a rum tasting tour, allowing us to learn about and taste six of the brand’s finest rums. Because we also had the greatest, most sarcastic tour guide named Eric, this experience was especially enjoyable, and we found ourselves sipping on our rums a big longer than the tour should have lasted… The rums we tasted included: Superior (classic), Añejo Cuatro (Jordan’s favorite), Ocho, Diez, Limitada (notes of coffee, obviously my favorite), and the Reserva Limitada.

After our tour, we utilized the free drink tokens included in the booking and sat at the Bat Bar Pavilion for a few hours while the rain poured down. On the way, though, we of course had to stop and play in the sugar cane.

SAN JUAN

The third oldest European-established capital city, San Juan is now the 46th largest city under U.S. jurisdiction, and probably the most touristy area in Puerto Rico. We spent most of our time in Old San Juan, walking the cobblestone streets, along the ocean, and around the city’s former defensive forts. Not pictured here is the abundant bars and clubs contributing to San Juan’s night life, our favorite of which being El Batey where Hunter S. Thompson would hang out while he was authoring the Rum Diary. The bartender there also is in two bands, one of which is the song selection for this post.

EL YUNQUE NATIONAL RAIN FOREST

Another spectacular feature of this 100 mile wide and 35 mile long island is the only national rain forest in the U.S. forest system on the north eastern side of the island. The road leads you to all the major attractions, including a water fall, old watch tower, and natural swimming hole (not pictured, but posted to Instagram, are my adventures in the swimming hole’s small water fall). Unfortunately, due to damages caused by Hurricane Marie, many of the popular hiking trails are still inaccessible. That didn’t stop us from enjoying all the nature around us though.

CUEVA DEL INDIO

What good is driving across the island if you don’t make a road trip out of it? Our first (and only because we ended up completely enthralled and spending all our time there) stop was about an hour west of San Juan: Cueva del Indio, or cave of Indians. The prehistoric rock structure has protected the island against many a hurricane, and natives claim hiding out in the caves will save you from disaster. For more adventurous types, or people just better at planning ahead, you can snorkel underneath the caves and jump from the rock structure into the crystal clear blue waters.

Oh, and on the way there, we found this statue of Christopher Columbus donated to Puerto Rico by the Russians, because…….we sill don’t get it.

HACIENDA MUÑOZ

Anyone who knows me knows I adore coffee (and also tea). So when I found out Puerto Rico had coffee farms, I immediately found one close enough to one of our AirBnBs to make a day trip, and that’s how we entered the wonderful world of Hacienda Muñoz. At one point in time, Puerto Rico was the largest coffee producer in the world. Today, about 10 farms still produce authentic Puerto Rican coffee. Hacienda Muñoz is a rare bird, though, because they’re the only farm on the east side of the island near a town called San Lorenzo.

Hurricane Maria devastated coffee farms on the island. Typically, a coffee plant needs four years from the time it is planted until it begins producing beans. For Hacienda Muñoz, the hurricane destroyed over 10,000 of their 14,000 plants. They’ve slowly rebuilt their plant inventory, and through experimenting with soil types and hours in the sun, they’ve hastened the time for a plant to produce to only 18 months. Competitors are still trying to figure out their secret.

Hacienda Muñoz also offers two restaurant options on site, and we chose the one with more local cuisine options so I could finally try some mofongo.

Of course, the #travelingbearistabear had to come along for this excursion. What kind of bearista would he be if he hadn’t visited a coffee farm?

PONCE

Our home on the south side of the island, Ponce is the second-largest Puerto Rican city and offered us many excursions within driving distance, including visiting downtown and seeing the bio luminescent bay.

35MM FILM

Possibly the reason I’ve been posting far less on this blog than I ever have before is that I started shooting 35mm with a Canon AE1 I picked up at the thrift store last April, and through many trials and tribulations, have finally gotten decent at it. Not only that, I now prefer it to digital and find it harder and harder to convince myself to lug around my D3s (weighing probably 8lbs) when I could carry this light film camera and a few rolls of film instead. The downside of course is you don’t see you photos right away, and we have lost some incredible photos from various rookie mistakes, but even with the risk, the quality of the images you do get are (in my opinion) so superior and have so much more character.

авось in the Motherland

авось

One of many untranslatable Russian words, Wikipedia's explanation for it is as follows: "a philosophy of behavior, or attitude, of a person who ignores possible problems or hassles and, at the same time, expects or hopes for no negative results or consequences. It is an attitude that treats life as unpredictable and holds that the best one can do is count on luck." 

Never have I found my life philosophy so well summarized in a single word before, so while I may curse the Russian language for its complicated grammar and impossible pronunciation, here I must actually tip my hat and say a big Спасибо. 

So, now onto the actual travel stuff!

Obninsk

Home to the world's first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for a power grid, the city of Obninsk grew outwards from the plant's location and is known today as one of Russia's science-cities. It also has an eternal flame memorial to those who contributed to the efforts of the second world war, and many dachas for families to gather on the weekends for home-grown and home-cooked meals.

Crimea

Sometimes it's important to turn off whatever news channel you're watching (especially if it's Fox News, in that case please just turn it off altogether) and develop an opinion about a place by visiting and interacting with the people there. Here are some moments I captured while doing just that. 

Moscow

Russia's largest and capital city, Moscow is a strange blend of European facets with the bigness of American metropolitans. Every subway station is as architecturally impressive as historic buildings around the city, the lone photo attached to this post was merely the one closest to our hotel we would take each morning to get to the city center, but there are some you'd mistake for cathedrals. Until you actually visit the cathedrals, that is, and their beauty takes your breath away even more. 

If there's one thing I took away from my three weeks in Russia, it's that Russian and American cultures and citizens aren't that different from each other. My hope is that others (political leaders especially) can soon realize the same. 

From Russia, with love, 

The Queen of the Sabakas 

ICELANDIC ADVENTURE

Reykjavik 

The chance to visit Reykjavik, or Iceland in general really, was never one that had ever crossed my mind. But now after experiencing it for a mere four days, I cannot wait to return and explore its beauty in more depth. Even the 7°C temperature became enjoyable with the friendly Icelandic folk and never-setting sun (which as a self-proclaimed moon child is hard for me to admit).  

Secret Solstice Festival 

The festival coincides with the Midnight Sun, a natural phenomenon which occurs in certain parts of the world during the summer months when the sun remains visible at the local midnight, and closer to the summer solstice on June 21, for nearly all 24 hours of the day. Paired with the breathtaking Icelandic landscapes, and a diverse line-up of international hip-hop, electronic and indie bands, Secret Solstice has been called “one of the most unique events in the world”.

These photos were also published as part of a photo-review on KALTBLUT Magazine

BISSL BAYERISCH

Part of the IPS program includes taking a trip to our representative's Wahlkreis (electoral district). For me, that meant flying to Salzburg. While not actually part of my representative's Wahlkreis (obviously, since it's in Austria), it was closer than flying into Munich – that's how deep into the south of Germany this town is.

At first I dreaded hearing the local dialect Bayerisch for an entire week, purely out of fear of not understanding it. Grüß Gott, ein bissl, Semmel... it truly is almost an entirely different language, and it's such an odd feeling not being able to automatically understand someone in German, because it's been that way for me nearly five years now. But luckily my coworkers were understanding and helpful and made an effort to teach me or speak in Hochdeutsch as much as possible, and the landscape definitely helped calm my fears... 

Traunstein

Chiemsee

Part of the Wahlkreis also includes the Chiemsee, with the Herrninsel and Fraueninsel. On the Herrninsel King Ludwig II began building a palace in 1878, but construction never finished as the lovely king went bankrupt. The parts that were completed, though, are breathtaking, but sadly not permitted to photography during the tour.  

Salzburg

Hanging out in the birthplace of Mozart. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. 

FRENCH AIR

Vincent Van Gogh said, "The French air clears up the brain and does good—a world of good," so it seemed like the appropriate weekend getaway after my first official week as a Bundestag intern. Plus, it was an excuse to cause chaos in a new city with my awesome roommate from last summer who's completing her master's in Paris! 

Since it was my first time ever in la Ville Lumière, she had quite the challenge fitting in all the Sehenwürdigkeiten, but after walking 12.6 miles on Saturday and another 6.3 on Sunday, we managed to see (almost) everything on her list. 

The atmosphere of Paris and Berlin are polar opposites, although I must admit, I quite enjoyed the Parisian lifestyle, their gorgeous architecture, and, of course, the crepes (not pictured here ;D).  

KETCHUP

I've taken so many photos thus far into the program, the other participants have started calling me "paparazzi" .... which actually fits, so es gefällt mir eig.

But, really: so. many. photos. I don't even know where to begin. Trying to do this in the most efficient way possible (because, Deutschland), this is just going to be a total ketchup post, with a few of the best moments from each of our adventures the past two weeks, and ein bisschen background knowledge as well.  

Bad Belzig

Since a major function of this program is pushing us out of our comfort zones and teaching us to interact with people of various cultural and political backgrounds, we took part in a four-day intercultural communication and conflict resolution workshop... which happened to be held in a 1,000-year old castle-turned hotel in a town called Bad Belzig. 

Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung

Germany has six political Stiftungen (foundations), which each align to one of the parties in the German Parliament. Our group attended a three-day seminar at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, the foundation affiliated with the Left party, and discussed the importance of Erinnerungskultur (culture of remembrance).

To bolster our discussions, we visited the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, where members of the Nazi party met and came to the decision to begin using gas chambers at concentration camps, the Soviet Memorial at Treptower Park, which honors the Soviet soldiers of the Battle of Berlin, and the East Side Gallery, one of the largest open air galleries and freedom memorials in the world. 

Teufelsberg

A man-made hill and former NSA listening tower, Teufelsberg is possibly my favorite place we've visited thus far. Graffiti covers nearly every inch of the abandoned buildings, and you'll find random chairs and bathtubs perfect for chilling just about everywhere, plus if you can brave the five flights of light-less stairs, the view and acoustics from the top radome are astounding.  Also, the name literally translates to "devil's mountain." Fitting, I'd say.