Hello Again!

Hello again!

Hello again! Obviously I have been missing for quite some time, but I decided to give blogging a whirl again anyways. I have just gotten back to my little Caribbean island of Vieques after 5 weeks of vacation. I had saved some money from the high season so I took off to Europe and visited many good friends throughout Istanbul, London, Brussels, and Montpellier. Lovely to see so many people I love, and to have the time and resources to do it!

I think the trip made me realize just how much I value my friendships, my own time off to think and reflect, traveling, seeing new places, connecting with the world, and thinking about my own direction in life.

I saw some really inspiring stuff while I was abroad that reconnected me to some of my interests:

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An amazing exhibition at the Guggenheim in NYC by James Turrell: he explored the use of light in space, how much it can affect your mood, the illusions it can create…

 

 

 

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Istanbul and the incredibly ornate monuments, palaces, and mosques, spiraling upwards in this incredible bustling city of 13 million people. Tucked between the mosques were the bazaars and spice markets, packed and crowded with locals searching for a good price on their dried fruits or cumin and masala…so much food!

 

 

 

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London and the artsy neighborhoods of Shoreditch. The fascinating exhibition on Sustainable Cities at The Crystal–really spoke to my passion for sustainable development. The exhibition was really artistic, creative, interactive, and captivating; kids where playing a massive game about how to build a city, and there was a cool theater where images streamed out from under your feet, up a curved wall in front of you, and over your head. So cool!

 

Brussels and all the memories I have there, sharing coffee, conversation, and great food with my friends. Resting and thinking about life.

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And Montpellier–the cheese and wine! My best friend from college! And the incredible winding streets in the maze that was the old city. I got so lost and even after a week was desperately reliant on my little pull out map. But i loved getting lost, because around every corner was a little cafe, or a garden, or an old church, or some fun tea house with funky instruments laying around, or a great pub with live music, or a juice bar with fresh squeezed orange and apple juice with cinnamon!

 

 

 

Then it was back to Atlanta for another wedding and to see my family–we explored the Beltline again on our bikes–I am so impressed by how successful the project is! So many people out on the belt line, riding bikes, walking dogs, having fun–and the art installations along the way were very impressive.

It was a much needed vacation–it is so crazy, after seeing so much, to be back on this tiny little island. I feel this tremendous urge to connect the island to the things that I have seen. To help people feel inspired the way I felt inspired; about art, sustainable development, fun entrepreneurial ventures, active lifestyles.

I feel like there is a need for artistic expression here in Vieques–some kind of performing arts center…Crazy that on my bike tour yesterday I met an events coordinator for the Lincoln Center for Performing arts in NYC–you never know where you will make a connection!

Anyways, we will see what the season holds!

Attempt at Underwater Photography

Today I had my first go at underwater photography with a go pro a friend lent me.  I suited up and went out to the concrete pier off Esperanza to try my luck.  For a while I couldn’t figure out how to shoot, and kept accidently filming myself trying to figure it out.   But eventually I came back with a few decent shots. Ta Daa!:

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Mountain Biking

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Yesterday a crew of us went for a great bike ride on the horse routes in the hills behind Esperanza.  I am not used to off-roading, so this was definitely an exhilarating experience for me.  There were four of us.  Roberto was leading the pack.  He’s from Mayaguez but has lived in Vieques for about two years and has explored all the routes.  He’s definitely the most experienced, and can spray to get around tight turns (this term “spraying,” is new to me.  It means shifting your weight to the front tire and swinging out your back tire.  It’s very useful when taking tight turns in the dirt.  Whenever I tried it, I nearly fell over, of course).

Also with us was Jade, a very cool British artist who is rock solid on the bike. We can thank her for getting us up in the morning and getting us stoked about the ride.  Naki, another Puerto Rican native, was probably the craziest of us all; his

bike was literally a time bomb as the brakes were on the verge of giving out.

We hit the road at 9:30am.  The day is crisp, windy, and fresh.  We pave the roads down to Esperanza, letting the cool morning air wash over us.  We take turns stretching our arms up to the sky as we fly down the roads, embracing the day.  Suddenly, Robert veers off the road into a tiny tunnel in the thick vegetation.  We all swing in behind him, and now we are crashing through the bush on a tiny single-track, ducking thick bayonda thorns and bumping over rocks.  Robert crushes it like a natural, but it takes me a minute to get a handle on my bars.  My body is tense as I duck and turn, and I feel like I have to concentrate to keep my jaw from bouncing off my face as we hop over roots and rocks.

Robert takes us up some hard climbs, and then suddenly we flatten out on the ridge with a gorgeous view of the green hills which cascade downwards to meet a beautiful, sapphire ocean. We can see the two bioluminescent bays, and even beyond to blue beach.  It’s breathtaking.

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Then Robert takes us down the coolest part of the trek; a cascading downhill section that swoops and swerves and jumps.  We run it twice because it is so much fun, and we all want to get better to do it faster and faster.  It literally feels like we are skiing trees on slopes, except we have bikes instead of skis, and dirt instead of snow.

Next we plan a route around the Vieques Transmitter towers– huge radar towers that are an attempt to control drug trafficking through Vieques.  The ground is really ragged at one point, consisting of a steep rocky ditch that looks terrifying.  Jade and I get off and walk–which is hard enough– but the crazy boys launch themselves down it.  We come around the towers and see a camp set up with some protest flyers and signs.  Old men greet us and ask if we know about their cause.  They explain that they have been guards of the towers for 20 years, but that the U.S. Navy is trying to replace them with military men.  They are protesting to protect their livelihoods, and are planning to camp out the night of the swap to refuse being replaced.  They invite us back to enjoy music, food, games, and booze the nights of the protest–and we plan to be back to support!

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We continue our journey around to Playa Grande.  The route there is shrouded in hanging vine tendrils that form a sort of natural bead curtain, if you will.  It’s exhilarating to feel the vines sweeping over our bodies as we dodge down the path.  At Playa Grande we stop to catch our breath.  Robert shimmies up a palm tree to grab three coconuts, which Naki busts open with his knife.  Enclosed in a circle of palms, we rest, drink our coconut water, and feast on the delicious, sweet coconut meat.  Before us, Playa Grande stretches out in a curved golden arc.

Rested, fed, and hydrated, we make our way back home.  Unfortunately things take a turn for the worst when Naki and Robert both get flats.  At least they happen to bottom out right by a wild passion fruit vine.  Jade and I snack on the delicious passion fruit while the boys fix their bikes.  Next Naki’s chain breaks–BOO!!  We manage to get back to his car, and pile all the bikes in with Robert underneath.  We make our way to Chicken King and Ice Cream for some hard-earned fried chicken and oreo smoothies; we logged about 20 miles–What a great day!!!  I love my biker crew! (who very nerdily and to my chagrin have decided to jokingly call our crew ‘the electrolytes’ haha! oh dear…)

Wellesley Interns in Town!

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Lauren and her first Lion Fish

Today I met the two interns from Wellesley College who are in town for a few weeks.  They will be working on a few projects at the Trust and I am helping them out!

Today we went snorkeling under the pier to catch some Lion Fish, an invasive species that has proliferated here in Vieques and throughout the Caribbean.  Lion fish were believed to have been introduced to this region in the early 1990s when a hurricane Andrew destroyed some aquariums in southern Florida.  It is a bit scary and exhilarating to go diving for these fish because they have extremely venomous fin rays.  Lauren did great maneuvering the equipment underwater to herd the lion fish into our nets!  lion fish

At the trust, we keep the lionfish in the aquarium for a while to educate both tourists and locals about this species.  After a few weeks or so, the lionfish will be killed so that they don’t keep taking over our reefs!

Out on our trip today we also took turns practicing underwater photography with Mark’s waterproof Nikon point and shoot.  I will try to load those pictures up next when I get my hands on the camera.

Introduction

Hello!

I am going to use this blog as a place to free-write about my experiences in the tiny Caribbean Island of Vieques.  I am not entirely sure what focus this blog will take yet, but I want this to be a place to throw down my ideas, talk about my experiences, and express myself creatively.  I am totally new to blogging, so this is a work in progress and I will be experimenting a lot!
This blog–”Live Vieques”– stands for two things:
  1. Conserving Vieques (as in “long live Vieques!”)
  2. Living it up in Vieques (or how to have a blast on this island!).
 
Who I Am:
First I will introduce myself: I am a Laura Geronimo, 23 years old, and I have been living in Vieques for 4 months now.  I run Eco-Tours for Black Beard Sports, including hiking, biking, kayak, and snorkel tours, as well as tours of our magnificent bioluminescent bay.  I am also being certified as a Dive Master.  I have just completed my Rescue Diver certification and am excited to move on to Dive Master!  This will definitely open up a lot of doors for me.
How did I get to this tiny remote island in the middle of the Caribbean?  I graduated from Wesleyan University in 2011, with a degree in Urban Studies. After school I had trouble finding a job in my field, and I ended up taking a job in Education Policy Research in Berkeley, CA. The job sounds more interesting and romantic than it actually was: I ended up sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day staring at excel spreadsheets full of standardized test scores, looking foranomalies in the numbers that would indicate bad data. Data cleaning wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for my future, and when I saw that my peers had been doing the same thing for 3 years straight, I decided this was a dead-end job. I saved all my money, quit 8 months later, and traveled around the world for 6 months! My final destination was Puerto Rico, and by then I was hurting for money and needed a job. I landed in Vieques broke as can be and feeling a little desperate. Luckily, my guardian angels Tofer and Jake adopted me into their hostel, the fabulous Hammock House Hostel here in Vieques, and let me stay for a great deal during the low season. Every day I biked all over the island until I landed a great job with Black Beard Sports!!
 It may seem odd that I studied cities, given where I am today.  However, I actually designed my major, and grounded it in Environmental Science, Sociology, and Government.  I am interested in the relationship between human settlements and their natural environments. I like connecting people to nature by getting them outside and doing active fun things, and I like thinking about sustainable development issues.
Why Vieques?
Vieques is an incredible case study for me in many ways: the island was only recently opened to tourism after the U.S. Navy finally left in 2003. For 60 years prior, the U.S. Navy used two-thirds of the land as a bombing range for war practice. I won’t get into all of the details of the past right now, but the issue now is that Vieques is prime real estate for development, and many people are seeking to invest here. I want to use this blog as a place to log, track, and explore that development, and think about the implications for Vieques in the long-term. Questions that pop into mind are the following:
  • What is the carrying capacity of the Island?
  • How do you manage seasonal influx?
  • How do you manage development without turning Vieques into another overrun tourist destination?
  • How do you preserve the pristine, ‘getaway’ feeling while developing the island?
  • As tourism rises, how do preserve the islands incredible natural resources, like the Bioluminescent Bay, the coral reefs, the different vegetation zones, and the wildlife?
  • How can you ensure that the local population benefits from the influx of tourism?
Obviously I have many questions and many more to come, and there is no way I will be able to answer them all. But these questions are swirling around in my head, and this blog will help me get them down on paper, get them out there, and organize my ideas.
Current Projects:
Monitoring water quality in the Bioluminescent Bay:
I am currently volunteering with the Vieques Conservation and Historic Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to taking care of the island. I go out to the bioluminescent bay every week with Mark Martin, the director of community relations, and Dan LaPierre, another volunteer. We are monitoring water quality in the bay in order to help keep our dinoflagellates safe and glowing!
Collecting Specimens for the Aquarium:
We also periodically go snorkeling out in front of the Trust in Esperanza in order to collect specimens for the Aquarium here. The other day we caught several Lion Fish, a Scorpion Fish, a banded butterfly fish, several different types of crabs, and a few fire worms. It was intense trying to catch some of the poisonous species by free-diving 10 feet down with our nets, but we figured out good system with lots of team work.
 
Hopes and Dreams:
I hope to expand my work with the Trust by developing content for their website through my blogs, as well as becoming involved in more projects. I also hope to get more involved with underwater photography and film. Hopefully some of my future posts will include some underwater shots!!
This is my first post and I am excited to finally get some words and images on paper!! Thanks for viewing.
Laura Geronimo
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