Monday, August 31, 2009

Island driving school

It’s funny how errands that would be simple at home become more complicated when you’re living abroad. For example: getting a haircut. I had two main concerns about getting my hair cut in Puerto Rico: (1) I barely know what to tell the barber when the conversation is in English, so I definitely don’t want to have that conversation in Spanish, and (2) I had a nagging fear of ending up with a Cristian Ronaldo no matter what I said. Anyway, Yelp located a salon near San Juan that cuts men’s hair and I was off. (On a side note, this was my first time in a “salon” as opposed to a “barber shop”, and the atmosphere and scenery is much different… and much easier on the eyes.) In the end, my Ronaldo fears were unfounded… in fact, I think I look rather dashing (if I do say so myself), but I snapped a photo when I got back from the salon for your review.

Clearly I need to attend the Jason Walker School of Posing for Photographs.

As it turned out, the most dramatic part of the experience was getting there in a torrential rain storm. Even in good weather, the people here seem to think we’re all in bumper cars, and flooded streets did not help. I thought (correctly) that LA drivers are bad; but drivers here seem especially dedicated to negligence on the road. So just in case you're planning a trip to PR, here are a few things I've learned that you'll find helpful:

  1. At times it will appear that another car is trying to hit you. Do not be alarmed; this is just their way of merging.
  2. Right-of-way rules (as you know them) do not exist here. The rules here are similar to when someone fumbles the football: whoever wants it more gets possession.
  3. I have conducted an investigation and found that cars in PR are in fact equipped with turn-signal indicators. I can only conclude that there has been an island-wide agreement never to use them.
  4. While on the freeway, you will notice that many drivers take up two lanes (maybe it's more like a lane and a half). You can experiment with this if you’d like, but I have found that the one-lane technique works just as well as it does at home.
  5. If you want to blend in with the locals, you should be on the phone as much as possible while driving and under no circumstances use a hands-free device. Maybe this is where the two-lane technique comes in handy.
  6. This last tip isn’t specific to driving: If you’re going to need an ambulance, make sure it’s when traffic is light. Traffic here does not move out of the way of EMS vehicles.

But those rain storms make for dramatic sunsets...

Well, we're getting ready for the arrival of Tropical Storm Erika here tomorrow. Apparently it's a weak storm, but will bring tons of rain, which means flooding. I'll let you know how things turn out next week.

El Yunque Rainforest

Hey kiddies! I know I’ve been neglecting you for a week, but let’s put that behind us. In the words of Mark McGuire, “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Starting work in Puerto Rico has been a lot like starting a new job: New boss, new projects, new surroundings... new everything. But I’ve come up to speed pretty quickly and have already made real contribution to the project. My younger colleagues are quite adamant that I have a good time while I’m here and expect a full report every Monday about my weekend. A conversation on this topic led to this exchange:

Ángel: You know, there’s a club in your hotel that is well-known throughout the island. You should definitely check it out.
Maritza: (A bit incensed) Don’t send him there! That place is a meat market; they’ll try to eat him alive!
Ángel: (Completely calm) Of course… that’s the whole idea.

This weekend I got out of San Juan and visited El Yunque, the rainforest of Puerto Rico. Hiking is not typically my forte, but I was curious to see a rainforest (I don’t count those childhood visits to the rainforest at Baltimore Aquarium), and the challenge of hiking to the peak was too good to pass up. So here is my hike in pictures…

This picture is from a vista point near the start of the trail. It's about 5mi. (as the crow flies) to the nearest coast in the photo. Those more distant parts of the coastline to the right are 10 - 15mi.

11:20am: It's 2.4mi. to the top (and a 1378ft. increase in elevation), and this sign says it will take me 2hrs. We'll see about that... clock starts now, and GO!

11:30am: Several small streams work their way down the mountain.

11:45am: Doesn't it look like a shot straight out of Treausure Island?

12:00pm: Very steamy.

12:12pm: The view from this vista point took my breath away... it seemed like I could see from one end of the island to the other.

12:15pm: Uh oh, these dark clouds don't look so good. Better keep moving...

12:24pm: We've done it! Made it to the top with a time of 1hr. 4min.!

12:25pm: Wow, I bet the view from 3,496ft. will be amazing. Let's just take a look from this little fortress-like building at the peak, and...

12:26pm: ...WTF? Fog?!? Well, it's rather breezy, I'm sure it'll clear in a few minutes...

12:47pm: ... or not. Well you can kind of see, right? :(

Since I wasn't able to give you a panoramic view from the top, here's a parting shot of El Yunque from La Coca Falls.

Well, some thick fog completely shrouded my view from the peak, but I still made good time getting there, so I'm putting this one in the "win" column.

More to come this week. I promise. :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Operación de ingeniería en Puerto Rico

A week ago Amgen sent me to our manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico to be an extra pair of hands on a technical project going on down here. My orders are simple: (1) do whatever is needed to complete the project successfully, and (2) don’t come back until it’s done. Since 2+ months is a long time to be away, I thought I’d fire up the old Madrid blog to keep in touch with everyone back home. But not to worry – I won’t be blogging about using Henry’s Law to solve a gas dissolution problem or how I measured the UV blocking characteristics of a product vessel to demonstrate process robustness (although both stories are true). This will be the story of a guiri living in Puerto Rico.

Well I think we all saw this coming... I have found the only microbrewery on the island. On Friday I went out in Old San Juan with a work colleague, his wife, and her friends. After dinner they asked if I like beer. Umm… yes. After a short walk, there it was: gleaming copper mash tuns, huge stainless steel brewing vessels, and a beautifully long row of draft taps. Given the heat and humidity of the island, lighter beers are of course more popular here. This did not stop me from ordering a black stout straight away. And then another. If you're scolding me for not embracing the local flavor, have no fear. We ended the (very late) night at several dive bars in Old San Juan, where I had my share of Medalla Light (Puerto Rico’s beer, which has slightly more flavor than Coors Light, but is similar in texture). Maybe this is why Roman is so obsessed with Coors Light… a reminder of the island?

A beautiful island sunset from my hotel room balcony.

As I was sitting by the pool (which resembles a Las Vegas commercial during the day), the hotel staff started setting up for a wedding ceremony.

Literally minutes later, guests started filing in. This seemed like my cue to leave as I was wearing a sleeveless tee and surf shorts.