Three and a half years ago, I wrote a song in the dead of winter in the stairwell of Tierney Hall at Fordham. I remember being nervous about it, since it was a very different type of song than I was used to writing. Much more emotional and soft, at a time when I was writing songs more along the lines of alternative/punk. Nervously, I played it for some guys in my dorm, since I figured most girls would appreciate it, and they all said they liked it even though it was different from other stuff they’ve heard of mine. So I called up a friend of mine from choir, Jordan King, who was studying at Berklee to become an engineer, and he did a demo. Through this I got my first article published about me, from a “Tween” author of romantic novels, and used it to send out to producers for opportunities. This was the first song that Lynn ever heard of mine.
There’s the backstory. Three and a half years, a recorded EP, and a graduation from school itself later, I’m sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico, preparing myself to record a music video for “Ocean Skin”. We picked Puerto Rico because it’s tropical, but it’s also very convenient. Since the lyrics talk about Hawaii, obviously that would be the first choice, but it’s so hard to get a group of people in New York that far away. Todd Reynolds (Videographer), Michael Graye (Master Planner/Team Mom), and myself stayed in a house that was beautiful. Beach front, great backyard, and fairly spacious rooms. After a somewhat nerve-racking flight, with lots of expensive equipment, and a 2 hour car ride with 3 extra hours of getting lost, we finally arrived there. We were all shocked at how nice it was, considering usually pictures online are far better than what you get. Luckily, we had the opposite, and the house was even better than the pictures led on.
We decided to get some initial shots down after getting settled in. The sunlight was beautiful, and it was good to get some practice before the big shoot the next day. It felt a little awkward, since there were some people staring at us on the beach, but it was nice to feel the warm water, soft sand, and sing in the sunset.
We shot until all the light was gone, and then decided to finally go for the swim. While the beach was incredible, there was a reef right at the edge of the water, making it a little difficult to get out there. But we carefully navigated the sharp rocking bottom and got ourselves out in the surf. We swam for about 15 minutes, cracking jokes and enjoying the water. Then Todd said “This is paradiFUCKKKKK” as he crashed into a reef. We all start laughing hysterically as we realized that we had drifted into a much larger, pointer reef than the one we had gone through to get in earlier. Laughing, screaming in pain, and getting pushed down by the rising tide, we half crawled/half fell through reef and sea urchins to get to shore. I had a few urchin spikes in my feet, but mostly was ok. Michael got chewed up pretty good, and Todd’s foot was bleeding. We realized that it was probably going to be this type of trip; perfect, surreal moments followed immediately by somewhat painful mini-catastrophe’s.
The next day we woke up early to meet the model, Daniela, at a local coffee shop. She was already there, so we sat down and got coffee and a light breakfast. The coffee there is much different from here. While it’s ridiculously strong, it doesn’t have the acidic or bitter aftertaste that most coffee does here, and is spicier. A small americano was enough to keep you wired a few hours. Or, at least most of us, since apparently Todd is resistant to the effects of caffeine. But we’ll get to that later… Daniela looked great, and while we ate we talked and got to know each other. She said she was going to college in New York, and when I asked where I could have sworn she said “Fordham”. I immediately doubted myself. There was no way, the chances were too small. But, I couldn’t think of another school in New York that sounded anything like Fordham. Sure enough, I heard right, and she said she was even going to the Rose Hill campus, the college I graduated from two weeks ago. I’m still pretty shocked.
Once we were done, we went to our first location for the shoot, which was a waterfall. We had found out about it online, although we weren’t really sure what to expect. There weren’t very many pictures, and the descriptions of where to drive and where to hike to get there were confusing. One site even suggested hiring a local as a guide. Luckily, thanks to Michael’s mad ninja tracking skills, we got there with little trouble. As we were walking down the trail, Todd said he wanted to get some shots of us walking. The context of the shoot is that I took my girlfriend on a date on “a tropical island”, so there’s a lot of hand holding and such. As we’re holding hands, looking adorable, I trip on my flip flop and stubbed my two on the pavement. I’m so smooth. What’s worse is I immediately know it’s bleeding. Sure enough, I look down and theres a quickly growing puddle of blood. Yummy. Like a boss, I play it cool and keep walking. It’s not like we had a bandaid, and it didn’t hurt anyway.
We get down to the waterfall pretty quickly, and everyone gasps. It’s much bigger, and way more beautiful than we had thought. It had multiple tiers of cascading water, and a trail in the rock behind the falls. Giddily, we go down the steep, muddy path as quickly as possible. We couldn’t find a bad angle to shoot from. The river, the falls, and the trees around were all incredible. We got some amazing shots, had a good swim, and had some fun climbing rocks and doing some cliff diving.
After a few hours, we packed up and headed back to the car. As we get there, we run into a family. Apparently they were from the states, but moved to Puerto Rico because of low taxes and low cost of living. They were asking us what we were doing, and suggested that we go to “Crash Boat”, a beach that had a couple shipwrecks on shore. They said they were going there, and even offered to have us follow. They were an incredible family, and when we got there we saw they were right. Crash Boat was an unbelievable beach, with interesting rock backdrops, cool shipwrecks, and unique colored docks. We decided that we would forget about the other beach we were planning to go to, and get all of our beach shots here.
This was SUPER awkward though, since there were a lot of locals here. But they were nice, understanding, and some even clapped after I finished my first take. It should be said that everyone we ran into in Puerto Rico was incredibly kind and helpful. After a long, hot, and fun day at Crash Boat, we decided to get some shots at the house. The light was soft, and it made for some really good romantic shots of Daniela.
After that, the shoot was over and we started to figure out what we should have for dinner. Lynn has been to the house we stayed at before, and talked about an awesome restaurant that was down the beach. We decided to check it out, and we discovered she wasn’t lying. The food was fresh, perfectly prepared, and the fish was amazing. Clearly it had been caught that day. We stumbled in the dark back along the beach after an amazing meal. We were smart enough to not go swimming again though.
The next day was adventure time. Puerto Rico has some amazing attributes to offer, and we were determined to see more than just our local sights. We talked to the owner of the resort we stayed at, and he suggested that if we wanted to do something unique, we should do a boat tour at a place called La Parguera. He told us about a salt water pool that was blocked off from the open water, that let you swim and snorkel without any waves. It sounded cool and different, so we took his advice, and began a two hour or so drive down there. We were shocked by the different landscapes, from fields to jungles to a type of desert plain similar to Africa.
We get down to La Parguera, after getting a little lost, and look for the boat tours. A man comes up to us and asked if we are looking for a boat tour. We say yes and he tells us to follow him. We walk across town, and he takes us to a hut on the beach. “$20″ says the man in the hut. I give him twenty, and he gives me a waiver. I sign it quickly, since it’s in spanish anyway, and he says “ok, here’s your boat, bring it back by two.” I had no idea that the tour was going to be led by me! I thought we would get on a boat, some dude would tell us about the different islands we pass while cracking jokes… A puerto rican version of Disneyland’s “Jungle Cruise”. Instead, they give a few suggestions of where to go, show me how to start up the motor, and we were off.
The cameras were rolling, the surf was swelling, and I was singing “Ocean Skin” while trying to keep us afloat. It was pretty insane. On the way to the pool we were told about, we saw a bunch of islands covered in some kind of brush. It was so thick that you couldn’t see any of the beach or land under it. One of the islands had large, white coastal birds on the brush. We went over to get a shot of them, and they flew all around us.
We finally get to the salt water pool, after crossing some pretty rough water with high winds from the larboard side. It was essentially a dock that was a ninty degree angle, and attached to shore from two places. It was cool, and we got our snorkel gear on, strapped the water proof case on the go pro, and jumped in. We were getting shots and swimming around for maybe five minutes before a local starts yelling at us. We weren’t sure if we were in trouble for some reason or what, be he was pretty persistent about us coming over to him. I was ready to leave, but Todd started swimming over there and Michael was walking on the dock towards him, so I followed suit. The guy was a local fisherman, and brought over all kinds of wild fish and ocean creatures to show us. He had pufferfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish, etc. We got some awesome shots with him and his fish, when all of a sudden he puts a sea urchin in his mouth! He laughed somewhat maniacally, made his best scary face, then took it out. As he was showing us, a huge boat comes up and starts blowing it’s horn for us to move, so we thanked the fisherman, got in our boat and went back. It was time for us to leave anyway, we had to get the boat back.
After getting lost, again, we finally made it back to the hut. When we returned the boat, they asked if we had ever seen the bioluminescent water? We said no, and it wasn’t even a question; we were going. We get on a packed boat, and they drive us out to a cove. It was a full moon, and incredibly beautiful flying over the dark-lit waters, but unfortunately it made the effect of the bioluminescent less apparent. They brought the boats close together and splashed the water inbetween. A faint glow shown in the moving water. Then, they asked if anyone wanted to swim in it. Before anyone knew what was going on, me and Todd had already jumped in the water. When I moved my hands, a trail of glowing dust followed. Imagine pixie dust but a white-blue color instead of Tinkerbell’s golden yellow. After swimming for a few minutes, we got back in the boat and they took us back to the dock. It was getting late, so we went home and made ourselves a slightly sketchy meal of grilled fish (my idea of defrosting in the microwave didn’t work out so well…).
We woke the next day bright and early, since it was time for surfing! Admittedly, it had been awhile since the last time I had surfed, and I haven’t had all that much experience with it. So, nervous and excited, me and Todd headed over to the main desk to meet the surfing instructor. His name was Carlos, and he was awesome. He knew everyone, from the place he bought us coffee from, to the guy who gave us special parking right next to the beach, to literally every single person at the beach, surfing or not.
He introduced us to some other instructors, and then started explaining some basic tricks to think about while I was out there. The way he moved and spoke, he was the surfing version of the water dancer Syrio Forel (GoT reference). Then we went out into the water and he started pushing me into the waves. I missed the first one, but it was only the second try when I popped up on the board. When I finally jumped off I saw him nodding his head excitedly, smiling at me and looking at the other instructors, who were also nodding excitedly, as if to say “you see?”.
It was a great morning, surfing for about 2 hours until finally he told me to surf it in. When we got to the beach, one of the instructors gave all three of us a piece of fruit and some juice. The fruit was a type of mango that you bit into, and had very stringy flesh like spaghetti squash. She gave these to us with incredibly kind eyes, and laughed at our surprise at this unique type of fruit. We ate, and then I realized in horror that I didn’t have any cash. Carlos gratefully offered to take us to the nearest bank, which was about 20 minutes away. We were a little worried, since we had to get back, pack, and get to the airport in about 5 hours, but we didn’t really have a choice.
We got to the bank, paid Carlos and said our goodbyes, promising to come back having practiced so that we could surf some bigger waves and different beaches, then sped back to our house. We had just left, however, when we gas light came on. I was speeding back home, Todd was on Google maps trying to find the nearest gas station, and we were getting lost trying to find too many places at once. We finally filled up, went home as fast as possible, threw all of hour clothes and equipment together and sped out for the airport. We were nervous to make our flight, but even that couldn’t keep us from feeling sad we were leaving. It was an experience of a lifetime for me, and I couldn’t have asked for two better guys to have it with. We quickly slammed some fish tacos that were on the way, and just barely make our flight out. I honestly could have stayed there for months longer, filming, singing, and having a blast with Todd and Michael. But these things must end so that we all can continue to grow, using these times to drive us forward to where we need to go.