Last week, geography educators from across the nation traveled to Puerto Rico for the National Council for Geographic Education Conference in San Juan (of course, no need to remind our geo-savvy audience–unlike some other friends who will remain nameless– that Puerto Rico is within the political territory of the United States). After attending two previous fall-season conferences in Oklahoma City and Dearborn, Michigan, the tropical climes of the Caribbean were a welcome change of pace. Luckily, we avoided any September hurricanes and enjoyed a relaxing, yet productive, trip. My five favorite Puerto Rico experiences:
1. Mo’ mofongo, please
I’ve had many a plantain (a fruit similar to a banana but more tart in taste) in my life, but I’d never heard of “mofongo” prior to my trip to Puerto Rico. Mofongo is made from under-ripe plantains that are mashed, fried, and served in a mound, often with meat or seafood. It’s a pretty distinct-tasting dish–some people love it, others aren’t so keen. Luckily, I was in the first category. I had mofongo no less than 3 times during my trip to PR. Have you ever tried mofongo? You can also find it, sometimes called “fufu,” on the nearby Caribbean islands of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and in parts of Africa, where it is believed to have originated.
2. My rainforest-castle on a cloud
On one day we took a trip to explore a different feature of Puerto Rico’s physical geography: El Yunque National Forest, located in the northeastern part of Puerto Rico. It was quite a drive away from the coast along winding roads, through small towns and tropical fruit plantations. We climbed up a few thousand feet into a cloud forest, where we were treated to cool, fresh air and vistas of waterfalls–a nice transition from the hot, humid air at sea level! Did you know that El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the United States’ National Forest System?
3. The city that never gets old
I spent several days exploring Old San Juan. This colonial city (the Spanish controlled Puerto Rico before ceding it to the United States in the Spanish-American War of 1898) features charming, brightly colored architecture, several museums, regular cultural events, and beautiful parks and green spaces. A must-see if you’re in Puerto Rico–make sure to check out El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century fortification that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And definitely take a stroll along the Paseos de la Princesa and de el Morro.
4. Warm weather!
Unlike some of my D.C. friends, I love hot, humid weather. So traveling to Puerto Rico in September was like a continuation of D.C summer–with the added bonus of the beach! While humidity comes with rain, which we experienced a fair bit of, there was plenty of sunshine to enjoy. And I did: I think I now understand why Caribbean residents are so friendly and carefree!
5. High-quality geography and high spirits all around
I think anyone who has attended a National Council for Geographic Education conference will agree that the best part of the experience is the camaraderie and dedication to mission among this small, intimate community of passionate geography educators. The sessions are always interesting and the scholarship top-notch. I love reconnecting with former college classmates and National Geographic interns, geography alliance and public engagement coordinators, my friends on the ESRI education team; as well as forming new connections and partnerships. And when you combine that with the attitude-enhancing atmosphere of an island oasis…well you have one darn successful conference. “Hola” to all my friends in the world of K-12 geography education!