In Seattle, it rains. It rains 155 days out of the year. Luckily for us, however, the stormy city plays host to some great water features. On our way to Mt. Rainier, our group of VC spring breakers drove across Lake Washington on top of a floating bridge. That’s a bridge which rises with water-level and only makes me slightly nervous. The drive was stomach-turning for sure, but it wasn’t till we arrived and strapped into our snowshoes at the white-walled base of the mountain that my nerves really kicked in. The climb up was tiring at first, but the exercise invigorated us. Our steel-clawed feet dug into a deep fresh snow that covered the range, and an evergreen-studded landscape unfolded in front of us.
In the summer, deer and other wildlife eat the pine shoots, but on our hike, we used the ones they had left for a resting spot. Then the fog rolled in, and we couldn’t see more than 50 feet in front of us. The world was white and we travelled on. We turned around shortly. We galloped backwards down the mountain in the fog, taking impossibly large steps. Laughter seemed to jump out of our mouths. I’ve never seen so much snow. Apparently, neither has any American city south of the Canada border. With an average of 643 inches of snowfall per year, Mt. Rainier would probably say that Seattle gets the dregs.
—Alan Hagins ’16
After an exciting but exhausting tour of Cuba with the Vassar College Choirs, I spent the remaining week of spring break at my friend’s house in Isabela, Puerto Rico. She was generous enough to host four guests–myself and three other friends–during break, and our trip was the perfect way to rest and relax before we all got bombarded with work upon our return to Vassar.
My flight to Puerto Rico landed at around 2:30 in the morning, and rather than giving in to the urge to sleep all day after a late night, I decided to make the most of my vacation and spend the day at the beach.
This was the first of many long days lying in the sand and swimming in the ocean, and it was a great way to kick off my trip. When I ran into the ocean, I expected the water temperature to be like the California beaches that I am accustomed to–freezing cold. But I was in for a pleasant surprise when I dipped my toes in and found a soupy warmth.
My friend who was hosting us drove us all over the area, taking us to her favorite beach spots, each one with its own different character. Jobos was small but lively, with plenty of shady spots to enjoy a book.
The next, Crash Boat, was a little more crowded with beachgoers and vendors selling street food. Borinquen offered huge waves perfect for body-surfing when I got a little more adventurous. There was even a beach just a block away from her house that had a beautiful shoreline with plenty of tide pools to explore.
We also got the chance to visit historic Old San Juan, a neighborhood of the capital city with well-preserved cobblestone streets, old buildings and Spanish forts from the 16th century. It was especially fun to run around the many tunnels and staircases hidden in the forts and look through the windows to see surreal ocean views. I loved having the opportunity to see Puerto Rico, and it was even better to see it with some of my closest friends.
—Sarah Dolan ’18
London to Paris to Berlin
In the time leading up to my spring break trip to Western Europe, I became increasingly aware of how reticent I was to be alone with my own thoughts. At Vassar, we are immersed in a highly dynamic and technological busy-culture. Most people have their phones synced to a slew of apps like Facebook and Gmail, which are always sending us more notifications and stimulation than we could possibly account for. It seems like the deluge of information never stops. When you go from 100 to 0, you almost miss the connectivity for a time. You almost forget that there are other ways of connecting. The prospect of being 3000 miles away from all that noise in a space where I would not be sufficiently expected to stay “on the grid” made me as anxious as anyone raised in the busy culture might be.
In London, I enjoyed the familiar warmth of relatives eager to know what I’d be doing after Vassar. Each time I was asked about my life plan after graduation, I cobbled together a new possible future plan to see how it sounded to me. Later in Paris, I was reminded of the importance of body language and brave pronunciations of foods, places and things. Doing thumbs up and muttering “merci beaucoup” were the extent to which I could communicate my feelings with people I met in the city. I thought about how fleeting my presence would be. I thought about how I would fail to capture what it means to visit mythical places like Paris to relatives and friends back home. Paris wasn’t all about the smell of sweet roses, the Eiffel Tower or couples kissing at every corner. How could I tell them that and not seem ungrateful for the experience? I resolved to accept the fragments of the trip through pictures, moments and missteps.
My awareness of this inability to sufficiently narrate these spaces allowed me to accept the unknowns of Berlin. In Berlin, I met other people my age still trying to figure life out. One new friend joked, “In Europe, when you’re in your 20’s everyone treats you like a baby.” I laughed and responded, “In the U.S., I feel like at 21 you’re expected to be an adult but perpetually infantilized.” I noticed that she did not allow the undecided to over-determine the way she narrated her life. Our discussion moved me but I could not find the proper words to speak about it at the moment.
The trip left me asking how we may come to see the opportunities that uncertainties present. On the flight back I could feel a tension rising in me as my responsibilities came racing back. I thought about the anxiety that propelled many of my friends and acquaintances in the States to have everything figured out. I realized that travelling alone during the trip offered small lessons in handling the unknown. I had to accept that I could not plan for everything and that being misunderstood was par for the course. I think my new friend understood something that I struggled to see, that in the most stoic and cliché way possible, life goes on. Life persists in spite of precarity no matter where you go.
—Alejandro McGhee ’16