| Introduction and May 6 | May 7 | May 8 | May 9 | May 10 | May 11 | May 12-13 and Conclusion | Other Journeys |


This journal is an informal dairy kept by Alfred C. Snider, Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics, University of Vermont.
This journal is suitable for those interested in debating or interested in the author. The photos were all taken by the author using amateur abilities.

NOTE: Some of the video and text links are not yet completed, but will be in a short period of time. You will need RealPlayer installed to watch the streaming videos.



My first involvement with debate in Latin America was my contact with Rodrigo Rojas, the Director of Sociedad de Debate at Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile. He had come to the World Debate Institute in the summer of 2000 to learn more about debating, and we became friends. We talked about expanding debate in Latin America, and he suggested an idea of holding a tournament for the Spanish-speaking world to attend. Like so many I have met through the World Debate Institute, Rodrigo was a person of action. When he went home he began organizing such a tournament, and in May of 2001 he held such a tournament in Santiago attended by teams from a number of countries. I was lucky enough to be able to attend (and lecture) at this event, and I also took a Spanish speaking team from the University of Vermont to compete. It was a wonderful, eye-opening, and educational experience. I made some excellent contacts with others interested in expanding debate, including wonderful teachers and students from Bolivia, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Spain, Puerto Rico, and other lands. These contacts and friendships remain strong today.


One of the most impressive individuals I met was Maria Rosso of Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico. I later heard that she had taken it upon herself to hold the Segundo Torneo Hispanoamericano de Debate at her institution in May of 2002. We were in regular contact and I advised on topics, format, and other matters. I also agreed to attend and assist as well as bringing a team from the University of Vermont. Maria is intense and focused, the kind of higher educational professional we need to expand debating worldwide. I am very proud to be her colleague.


I began early in the year to look for a pair of Spanish speaking debaters to take to the tournament. Anthony Pagan, who had been on the ground breaking trip to Chile the previous year, indicated his strong interest and spent a lot of time during both semesters working on his Spanish. However, I was having some difficulty finding a second debater willing to risk debating in another language. I had a student in my Persuasion class who indicated some interest in debate (in English) and we welcomed Carlos Varela to the team. I soon discovered that Carlos was from Puerto Rico, and his first language was Spanish. Carlos debated actively for the rest of the year as a novice and had some success, reaching the elimination rounds at the Novice Nationals in only his fourth tournament. He had shown his debating ability and had the language skills, and I invited him to join the trip.



I was able to also include our outstanding coach, Jackie Massey, in the trip. Jackie is one of the best and hardest working young debate coaches in America, and he was just finishing a four year stint as coach at the University of Vermont, and was planning a move to Dallas, Texas because he needed to be closer to his daughter who lived there. It was a sad decision for our students, who have come to love Jackie as coach and friend, but we understood and admired his motivations. This would be Jackie's last (for now) coaching assignment for our team. Jackie, born in Oklahoma, had never been away from America's shores, so he was excited about the trip.


Because the tournament began during final examination week, it was necessary to shake up our academic studies a bit. Jackie and I both arranged to have our grading completed and submitted, and both Carlos and Anthony tried to work with their professors to allow them to leave. The final week before we departed was an intense one, especially for the students. Rodrigo Rojas, now on a Fulbright Fellowship at New York University working with Nobel Prize winning poet Derrick Wolcott, was able to fly up to Burlington for two days of coaching in Spanish to work on vocabulary, grammar, and presentation skills. Rodrigo's team had won the previous year, so I was hoping his luck (and skill) would help us along. This was difficult for Carlos and Anthony, who were trying to finish their academic work a week early. If you know anything about college students today, you know that this is a very difficult achievement. On Sunday, May 5, we finished our work, took Rodrigo to the airport, and packed for our journey.


On Sunday evening we crammed the four of us (Anthony, Carlos, Jackie, and myself) into my VW bug and began an overnight drive to New York City. We had found a fairly inexpensive fare from LaGuardia airport in NYC to San Juan, Puerto Rico. As the debaters slept (it always seems to work this way) I drove on through the night and toward NYC.


May 6, 2002


Our flight was at 6:30 AM, but we arrived at the airport a little after 4 AM. We found (luckily) a decent parking space at reasonable rates, and made our way into the terminal.


I have been on more debate trips than I can count since my first trip in 1964, but I have never been in an airport at 4:30 AM waiting. A new record. I was also a little concerned with our airline, Spirit Airlines. I had never heard of Spirit, never seen a plane, and never seen a gate at an airport. Our flight was listed as over seven hours long, and Carlos assured me that it should be less than four and a half hours. Our itinerary showed a stop but did not tell us where. We discovered that the flight would go through Fort Lauderdale and on to San Juan.


Our flight was crowded and we remained unfed (mini-pretzels do not count) as we winged towards Fort Lauderdale. We were all tired, especially me since I had driven all night the night before, so much of it was spent in what passes for sleep aboard a crowded bargain commuter airline. I was awakened by the beep of impending landing. We soared over the flat and waterway-veined Florida landscape and touched down in Fort Lauderdale. Although our tickets and itinerary did not indicate it, we did have a layover and we did have to change planes. We waited patiently, some of us tried to sleep, but both Anthony and Carlos worked on their unfinished academic assignments. Oh, the blessings of having a laptop available!



We boarded the next flight, and finally we were off to Puerto Rico. As we flew we noticed how deep blue the sea was. The coral reefs and small islands we saw amazed Jackie, a true Midwesterner. I slept some more, though you could hardly call it a restful sleep. The excitement was starting to build.


We landed and as we did we saw the tropical nature of our destination - lush vegetation, tall palms, pools of water. As we taxied down the runway towards the terminal we saw two large iguanas sunning themselves on the edge of the runway.


Maria and a small group were there, holding up a sign saying they were waiting for the delegation from the "Estados Unidos." That was us. It was good to see Maria again. She had a lot on her mind, obviously, but we received a very warm welcome. We met Pedro Perez, who would be a contact for us during the event, and we piled into a mini-van for a ride to our hotel.



Puerto Rico is part of the USA, and it looked it as we drove into San Juan. There were, of course, far more signs in Spanish, but the highways, traffic, and development seemed very familiar. The traffic seemed heavy for early afternoon, but we soon found ourselves at our hotel - a Howard Johnson's hotel located half a block from the beach. It sported a beautiful pool with a waterfall, and had to be the nicest Howard Johnson's I had ever been in. We checked into our rooms and decided on a plan for the rest of the day. We would rest and relax for a while, and then we would meet out front to go to the home of Carlos' parents for dinner.


I tried to nap but failed. I decided that a dip in the pool might cool me off. It was very comforting indeed, and after a short swim and some basking in the bright Caribbean sun, I made my way back to my room for a short nap. I awoke in time to change for dinner, and on my way downstairs met some colleagues and students I remembered from last year. Jackie, Anthony, and I waited out in front of the hotel and soon Carlos came zooming up in a large Pathfinder SUV. We piled in and drove out of the city on the highway.



As the city began to thin out a bit we began to notice things about the way the city and the buildings were laid out. Most of the buildings and homes have flat roofs, interesting in a country where it rains at least once a day. Jackie commented that someone could make a lot of money installing gables and slanted roofs to stop leaking, and Carlos and Anthony both agreed that this was a problem in Puerto Rico. We also noted that "gated"communities seemed to predominate here. The other thing we noticed was that the iron grillwork that I had seen so often in Northern Mexico had gone wild here all homes seem to be surrounded by iron fence, and every window seemed covered as well. I was told it was a combination of style and protection that led to such architecture.


We arrived at Carlo'shome, also within a gated community. It looked nice but modest from the front, with a very small yard. As we entered the house the air of modesty was lost, and we entered into a richly appointed and fashionable home. The first thing I noticed was that the kitchen opened through huge doors into a large porch, a lovely open space dominated by a splashing blue swimming pool and beautiful palms, flowering plants, and tasteful modernistic sculpture pieces.


The Varela family welcomed us warmly. Rosadella Varela is a successful accountant, and Alberto Varela is a very well known psychiatrist. We were later to find out just how well known he was. We had a charming chat as dinner was being prepared. The patio area, we were told, is the most used portion of the house, given the climate of Puerto Rico and the delightful atmosphere of the yard as it stretched pleasingly away from the patio. Alberto asked about the upcoming tournament and how formal debates operate. He receives the Vermont debate newsletter each week but that is mostly news and does not describe the actual debate process, something that I plan to include at least once a year. We tried to explain how we debate, and he was clearly a very quick learner. I began to realize the powerful intellectual atmosphere that Carlos had come from.


The meal was spectacular, but we were told that it was a very traditional Puerto Rican meal such as one would eat in the 1940's. The meal consisted of tender beef cooked with onions, green plantains (big banana-like fruit) that had been mashed down and fried, a delightful fried cake with corn meal and fresh cod, beans cooked in a very tasty sauce along with potatoes, a crisp salad, and some savory rice. For desert we had tiramisu, something I certainly recognized. We were very hungry and everyone had seconds. Both Anthony and Carlos ate with relish, both of them having missed the delicious food of their homeland during their time in Vermont. I became a huge fan of plantains, and I was going to discover later that plantains had surprises in store for me.


After the meal we had a relaxed discussion that featured a great deal of useful information about Puerto Rico. We learned about the climate which is warm, but never more than 95 degrees because of the nearness of the oceans and the cooling breezes. We learned that it often rains briefly in the late afternoon. We learned about the coquis, one of my favorite things about Puerto Rico. Coquis are tiny frogs, usually less than an inch in size, who live in moist places. They keep out of sight during the day, and come out at night to sing their beautiful song, much like their name, "co-key."Although they sing in the evening, they love the rain and will accentuate their singing during and after a short rain. Right on cue, it began to shower, and we could hear the coquis increase their song. We learned that there are many different species of coquis, and that they all have different songs, so they sing to members of their own species only.


Alberto told us about the politics of the island, the corruption scandals that had been such a problem, the controversy about Puerto Rico's status as part of the USA, and his work as a psychiatrist. He had been trained and had worked in Houston and Philadelphia before returning to his home in Puerto Rico. Rosadella added critical bits of information and color to the conversation. Carlos had been invited to come to a popular morning television program the next morning, and Alberto revealed that he had been a regular on the program for eight years, but was no longer. Carlos seemed particularly proud to be appearing on the same program his father had appeared on so many times.


We were still tired from the journey and we needed to get some rest before our first full day, and we took our leave of the Varela casa. We drove back to our hotel and although tired I was excited and anxious for this adventure, and after a period of awakened dreaming I slipped away into a restful sleep.