As the wheels of a Boeing 737 touched down on the cold surface runway of LAX airport yesterday I was reminded that I have once again arrived home. It was a journey that started a couple weeks ago when I set out with my mother and family friend Cecilia to board a cruise ship setting sail from San Juan Puerto Rico in route to a variety of exotic Caribbean destinations. This trip wasn’t by coincidence or simply out of the blue but something that I have been planning for and saving for ever since experiencing my first Poz Cruise last year. It is an annual retreat filled with close to 300 men and women both gay and straight who are either living with HIV/AIDS and or affected by it. Its a time to gather with like minded individuals all who come from a diverse variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, time living with the virus, and home towns. We had people travel from coast to coast including other countries to spend a week together at sea celebrating life. Though many of us may be positive we sure now how to party down ! HIV/AIDS is simply a condition and that isn’t going to stop us from having the time of our lives.
Aboard the ship there were many other people simply besides our group and due to the nature of the condition and unfortunately the stigma that still exists in todays day and age, discretion about the oneness of the group was highly respected. Not everyone is in the same situation of myself where they can be out with their status for one reason or another and for that reason we respect each individuals decision to disclose as they see fit without ever “outing” the group as a whole. Although the group is for those living with the virus and or affected it does not mean the entire week is centered on dwelling about the virus. There is that commonality and support can be found however for many its a week to forget about what we have to deal with on a daily basis. We still have to take our meds every day and that serves as a reminder however it is a vacation for a reason and that reason is relaxation.
For me it was a unique experience into another subsection of the Latino Culture. As my passion for Spanish and Hispanic culture began almost 9 years ago it has mainly been based around Mexico. Experiencing the differences in culture, dialect, food, music, and dance in Puerto Rico was quite an adventure and one I will never forget. It reminded me of how we are all unique in our own ways and those differences are what make this world such an interesting place. As we landed in San Juan the hustle and bustle of the active night life intrigued me as the humidity reminded me that we were definitely in the tropics. The uniqueness of Puerto Rico being part of the US however completely Hispanic reminded me of the “melting pot” and how our differences are what bring us together as Americans. Learning the history of Puerto Rico as we visited old Spanish forts brought me back into my days in high school however this time the history was right there physically in front of me. The welcoming spirit of everyone we came in contact with in Puerto Rico was such a warming experience and it is somewhere I would love to come back to. We only saw a portion of Puerto Rico but it is somewhere I will definitely be back to later on in the future.
The group itself had its own activities as well as excursions throughout the trip which made it enjoyable and memorable giving us all more time as well as opportunities to connect with one another. Everything from a pre cruise party to break the ice before the ship set sail, to a dating game matching prospective singles, to a gold and silver party that brought everyone back to the disco nights of the 1970’s, there was something for everyone. We explored the Southern Caribbean as a family aboard a ship carrying more than 2,000 passengers and crew in a relaxed atmosphere while sailing the tropical waters of paradise. I participated in several excursions including swimming with green turtles in Barbados, soaking in the sulfuric volcanic mud of the Pitons in St Lucia followed by a journey around the island in a Catamaran drinking the famous “rum punch”, and riding full speed horseback down the beaches of Antigua. There were also other days such as St Marteen and St Thomas when we simply decided to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, after all everyone needs a little bit of a break from activities, even while on vacation.
The last day on the boat and the goodbye party is always such a bitter sweet moment. Its a step back into reality that life does go on and vacation is soon coming to an end. As the ship entered back into the Muelle Panamericano de Puerto Rico the friendships, relationships, and yes even in some cases proposals continue to be maintained in a variety of ways. Wether it be online, on the phone, or in person, we all stay connected in one way or another. Through connecting with others who are HIV positive and affected we are mutually supporting each other and serving as a constant reminder that we are truly not alone in this battle. There are people from all over the US and the world that are battling this same battle every day and we each have a unique individual journey that we are on. We all have a story to tell and a common bond that holds us together however above all its a love for fellow mankind that regardless of the condition we are living with, we are all people and every once in awhile need to let loose of the stress of every day life. HIV + or HIV – life continues on and is a beautiful experience. For many it was their first time on the cruise however there is also a large majority of us that it has grown to become an annual event to be looked forward to year after year. Without being diagnosed with HIV, I probably would have never known about this cruise, and because of it this is one of countless reasons that I say it has been a blessing in disguise. I am not proud to be positive but proud of the lessons it has taught me as well as the life long friendships I have grown to develop with a great group of guys and gals that know how to get down and have a good time. We laughed, we cried, we danced, we drank way to much alcohol sometimes ;), we shared, we took in the scenery, we got sunburnt, we made every moment count, we sang, and we partied like no other. I can’t express enough in words how much I enjoyed this cruise and continue to live on “vacation buzz” for the months to come.
Live your life for you and be free !!!! There is a whole world out there to be explored, the world doesn’t have to be based on your condition. You define who you are, where you go, and what you accomplish in life. When there is a will there is a way. If you are interested in joining us on the next cruise simply connect to http://www.hivcruise.com and start saving as next year we sail the Mexican Riviera aboard the beautiful Ruby Princess. If you are positive or affected, open about your status or not, gay or straight, introvert or extrovert, this cruise is welcome to all. It is affordable, memorable, relaxing, an downright FUN! We hope to see you next year and welcome you with open arms.
As always a big thank you to Positive Lite (www.positivelite.com) for continuing to publish my blogs and vlogs. I encourage everyone to check out their site, regardless if you are in Canada or not, they have some great resources for all PLWHA. We are unified in this fight and they are leading the march in a big way throughout North America. Thanks Bob Leahy as well as all the administrative team at Positive Lite, you rock !!!!! Hope to meet in person someday soon.
A special congratulations to all the newlyweds on the boat who now are engaged and setting plans to be married !!! So happy for all of you and wishing you a life time of happiness alongside the love of your life.
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