Blog #11 – Puerto Rico – The Wandering Inn

Blog #11 – Puerto Rico

I promised a blog on Puerto Rico, and here it is. It’s so great I can remember every detail of my trip.

…In April.

No, but for real, I delayed writing this blog, and now I have but memories to use, and not the freshest ones at that. If my trip to Puerto Rico was a block of cheese or milk in the fridge, I, uh, wouldn’t necessarily trust it.

But maybe that’s a good thing? That means my memory is going to pick out the things I actually remember, and I get to find out how I remember things, and you get to find out how I lie about vacations. For everyone does. Let’s try to make it interesting.

 

On the first day, I had 3 hours of sleep total because I believe my flight left at 7 AM. I couldn’t sleep, but I got to the airport so early that security was closed.

I hate flying. I always do. I can’t sleep on all but the longest flights, and being stuck in an airport is hell for me. I recall sitting with a 3-hour layover in some airport wishing for death. And then flying and landing and…

Puerto Rico in April was hot. I read the weather might be rainy all the time, and I recalled worrying about it, but the moment I got out of the air-conditioned airport, it hit me like a wave.

The tropics are bright, warm (when not spitting rain), and humid. It was nostalgia. When I got in the Uber that took me to the Airbnb, I looked out the window and realized that living here might be super pleasant because the view was amazing compared to the overcast weather where I was.

That was my first intro to Puerto Rico, along with visiting Brasas Bar & Grill in Old San Juan. I don’t mind writing this up with locations because, well, it’s not like you can tell where I live from that, eh?

 

I do recall almost every restaurant I went to. The food in Puerto Rico was excellent. I think I had one mediocre meal, which was still fine, and every other dinner was accompanied by drinks or amazing food. On the first night, I was starving, as was the family I went with, so we enjoyed everything immensely.

I will say, Puerto Rican food is very, very tasty. It wasn’t actually easy to find a good restaurant every night. We tried to avoid tourist traps, so we might walk around for as much as forty minutes each night going from places we found on our phones and eyeballing each one to find out which was the best.

 

On another night while we were in Old San Juan, which is this long cape of land where the old Spanish colony was situated, we went to a clearly local restaurant. There was no menu, and the server gave us a list of items, recommended us what to buy (which we did), and we got a rum-infused something in a mason jar.

The food was probably the best I had my entire trip. Not just because it was good and the drink was strong, but because they had these condiments, which you needed to make the food taste most excellent. One of them was green and had flecks of what looked like cilantro in it.

I am one of those people who cannot have cilantro without tasting the soap. There was no other condiment full at our table (they were all two-thirds empty), so I tried the stuff without much hope.

To my surprise, while it had cilantro, the taste of whatever the condiment was actually overpowered what has been a traditional dealbreaker for me. So I had my first cilantro meal ever that was delicious.

 

Anyways, just remembering the food makes me hungry. It was a lot of meat-based dishes, so if you can’t do that or seafood at the least, I wonder how your experience would have been. But the food was excellent, and while it was pricier than normal, it wasn’t usually that much higher than, say, Uber Eats for food.

You could argue that as we moved away from San Juan, there were maybe too many mofongos, at least according to my brother, but I found that if you were giving me a drink, alcoholic or not, I was very happy with the food wherever I went.

 

However, back to a chronological study of events. I’d call it ten days in Old San Juan, and five days in Utuado, a place in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Completely different experiences. Old San Juan is one of those narrow-street cities with ancient paving stones, yet a lot of traffic.

You could see motorcyclists moving down this busy main road at night, some of them doing extraordinarily dangerous-looking wheelies for the tourists. However, traffic was by and large very accommodating to tourists. It wasn’t like Vietnam where you walk into the street and hope no one hits you; if you’re trying to cross, they stop for you.

Nor was Old San Juan like Venice, where I got lost one time wandering around because I couldn’t tell where the heck I was. Without a phone. When I was young.

 

You see, I have been places, but since before I started The Wandering Inn, I stopped travelling as much. This was the first trip I’d had, and it was, well…

Lazy compared to some trips? We didn’t go for a big journey in a jungle, or go on trips to see the luminescent beaches. What we mainly did was go to regular beaches, rest for an hour or two, go out and hit the town, then head back and hang out some more in the Airbnb.

Some may call that a waste of a trip. But I think it was what I needed. For the first ten days, I went to a beach every single day, I believe, and swam around in the ocean, for hours at a time.

I got sunburned on the first day.

 

Puerto Rico’s sun is on full blast. I didn’t realize how much sunscreen I needed until I noticed I was burning. I was a bit sunburned on the first day, but it didn’t hurt. On the second, I think I did the reasonable thing and didn’t stay out too long.

On the third day, I had a pair of goggles and went swimming at a local beach, admiring the fishies in the ocean.

For four hours straight.

Without applying sunscreen more than once.

I had forgotten how much sun blasts you. Needless to say, I looked a bit lobster-fried, but throughout the rest of the trip, it didn’t kill me that much. The lesson was learned after the third day, and I was a lot more cautious, to the point of swimming with clothing on just to try and save my remaining skin. I still can see the tan from the sunburn, but I enjoyed the beach.

 

The water is always fun to swim in, for me. I can spend endless amounts of time in it, and my mind often drifts to stories. I have an entire chapter based on thoughts while swimming on the beach during that time, and I haven’t written it yet—but I have the notes as I recorded them.

I also had interesting beach experiences. In Old San Juan, the beaches were public ones that weren’t that touristy—at least not for us. There were some tourists, but we didn’t go to a hotel beach except once.

The first beach had minimal waves and lots of fishes, but I never saw them until I ducked underwater with goggles on and noticed how many there were. They were of all sorts, including one of those flat fish that submerges itself in the sand, which was honestly creepy. On the day I got super burnt, I followed them around for four hours and even managed to touch them a few times, just to make sure they were real.

I noticed that one of the fish followed me around after a while. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but every time I looked around or even swam a ways away, it would be there, staring at me. As I stared at fish, I too was the stared-at one.

 

The second beach was one of those hotel beaches with pristine sand. Decent waves; I watched my brothers surfing and just enjoyed the waves, though there was nothing to see; this beach had no marine life. It was still quite fun, but I mostly just swam about that day. I never went too far out to sea. I had heard that riptide was a thing, and I was cautious, though this beach had enough people to reassure me.

The third beach was where it got dicey.

 

After we left Old San Juan, we came to a third beach in the northern area to the west of the city. I couldn’t tell you where unless I hunt down a map, but we came to an interesting place.

A cove, protected by rocks, getting absolutely slammed by waves that would blast up as much as thirty feet into the air because of the narrow entry into the cove, and a long, long stretch of beach. If you weren’t at the entrance where the water rushed in or out, you’d only get sprayed now and then by the waves.

The locals were the only people there aside from us, and we swam around in the cove amidst the rocks quite pleasantly. Now, you may be saying to yourself, ‘pirateaba, what about that huge stretch of aforementioned beach’?

Thousands of feet of beautiful beach. Pretty strong waves.

Zero people.

That made me rightfully assume there was something up with it, and my brother, after taking a look, decided not to swim there for reasons that were intelligent; the sand itself vanished after a dozen feet, indicating the water might pull super hard. Trust the locals.

 

The the last two beaches were both in different locations and the most memorable to recount. Both in the northern area of middle Puerto Rico, I think. I want to say around Arecibo.

One beach was another cove. Wide and flat. Rocks everywhere, and you had to float practically horizontal if you didn’t want to step into them. Zero waves; people just hung out, playing music, and I had a fine time there, aside from my sandal snapping as I walked around the beach. We hung out for an hour or two, but we wanted one last wave beach, so we went a little ways to another beach.

And there we encountered waves like I remembered from my childhood.

Ten foot tall ones. Or higher? It was hard to tell. There were other people on the beach, but not many were in the waves. I believe their experience was like mine; the waves tossed me like I was a piece of lint. The waves knocked me head-over-heels more than once, and they were so strong that the first time I went into one it ripped the goggles off my face.

The goggles did not survive that beach. I enjoyed getting tossed by waves quite a lot, but I definitely never went past a mere dozen feet in the water; the waves were intensely strong right near the shore. And that made me happy because it was the trifecta of beaches.

Calm with sea life. More action packed. And death befell all who challenge the sea.

The only other beach time I could name would be ‘there is a storm blowing in and you are unwise to be here’, when rain is falling and the waves are coming in with hammers.

…We were smart enough not to try the last, but I have known beaches before and swum quite happily against even gigantic waves. I grew up for part of my life around a beach, so I had missed that.

The beaches were the best part of Puerto Rico. Food comes second.

 

——

 

Back to a more systematic accounting of events. In Old San Juan, we mostly hit the beaches. We did get a chance to visit what is apparently the largest Spanish fort in a colony, the Castillo de Morro. It was a big frickin’ place. I never like visiting historical things that much, so the one place we went to wasn’t bad, but dead gods was it hot.

I think that was the day I nearly had a problem with the heat, and even with water and air conditioning, it hit me hard. As for the other things we did in Puerto Rico, we did try an escape room—it was very simple compared to the ones I’ve been to elsewhere, and I don’t really recommend it; we nearly got to the end, but the puzzles were not intuitive, but we give these things a shot.

Honestly, I have three highlights from the trip in Old San Juan besides visiting a friend I had known from college that I think will amuse you:

-Seeing a cruise ship.

-Not being heckled as a tourist.

-Seeing Hamilton on Netflix.

…Let’s start with the tourist bit.

 

Tourists get a bad rep. They usually deserve it. If your city is predicated on having them, I imagine you can get sick of it, and Puerto Rico would have reason enough not to want too many people crowding their island. Or so I imagine.

I think I saw some anti-colonialist and anti-tourist sentiments especially in graffiti, of which Puerto Rico has some amazing examples, but what struck me was the exact opposite.

People would say hello or greet me as I walked down the streets. I have never had that happen, I don’t think. Maybe in a few other spots, but there are cities in the world where you do not get the happy, friendly smile of welcome. I have heard New York is one of them, and I can confirm Hong Kong probably doesn’t have that feel unless you’re a shopkeeper trying to sell something to a tourist.

However, people seemed incredibly friendly. I just want to mark that out as a cool thing.

 

Especially because Puerto Rico gets cruise ship tourists, and those have to be the worst. Funny story: I had never seen a cruise ship before. I was walking down to the harbor, and my family pointed out one. I looked at it and said, ‘oh, that’s not that big’.

Whereupon all three looked at me, and one of them who reads The Wandering Inn vouchsafed that this was why I cannot do distances or numbers. I protested, naturally, and pointed out that the vessel was not that big.

As it so happened, I was pointing at a yacht. My attention was then directed up and past said yacht, at what I had taken to be the skyline of the damn city.

I had no idea cruise ships were that huge. It was like if you took a gigantic hotel—bigger than any building in San Juan—and tilted it on its side. There were two at harbor, and I stared at them. My conclusion after seeing the edifices like the Titanic?

…There is a Bill Burr routine on Netflix where he suggests reducing overpopulation by hunting down all the people willing to go on cruise ships by sinking the ships one by one. I agree. That is a monstrosity of engineering, which you could appreciate, but I know what monsters they are for the climate and sanitation and just how unpleasant they can be.

The world does not need those things. I did have fun trying to identify which people were probably from the cruise ships that night, but there were fewer than the hordes I expected. Perhaps because they had guaranteed food and entertainment in their ship and only came out to do the most touristy things like visit the Castille?

Cruise people. I dunno, I couldn’t imagine going on one of those things.

 

The last thing to mention was that my family convinced me to watch both 30 Rock and Hamilton some nights.

I watched Mean Girls earlier this year, and the movie’s dialogue is some of the best I have heard in my life. The movie ( I should say the original now; another version has come out, which is allegedly inferior as I think we could all guess), made me instantly respect Tina Fey, the director, for their writing.

30 Rock, from the episodes I saw, also had that snappiness of dialogue I envy. A joke a second sometimes. I won’t go into it other than to say it was a great choice for amusement when I was social.

However, Hamilton?

I didn’t really like it.

I have always had this impression that Broadway shows were like the high school productions I saw. The Children’s Hour, A Long Day’s Journey into the Night, even Urinetown; if you’re receptive—and the actors do it well enough—it can be gripping, disturbing, but fun to watch. In the same vein, I extended my limited knowledge of Broadway to assume that whatever grips the apparent theatrical zeitgeist of attention must be intellectually stimulating and entertaining.

Broadway musicals are not that. I have been to Wicked in London, and I greatly enjoyed that performance, I will say. Hamilton?

 

I don’t get it. I know Alexander Hamilton matters. And yes, it’s all songs back to back…but I just didn’t really care about him.

Maybe the songs and actors and stagecraft are just gripping in ways I didn’t appreciate. But to me, I was glad I had never had the urge to visit the show itself, and I am content to live my life with only having watched about half of the production.

It’s…okay. I can respect the quality of the songs while feeling as though my life will be rich without ever seeing more.

Except for one thing. That one thing is the King George’s You’ll Be Back, which is the greatest song I have heard in a musical ever. No; performance. You have to see the thing to appreciate it. I have watched it dozens upon dozens of times since. It is a phenomenal performance, and I believe King Perric of Medain owes some of his latest scene to that moment.

It was worth sitting through the rest for that one part.

 

——

 

After leaving San Juan, we drove across Puerto Rico quite quickly given how large the island is. Our destination from the city of San Juan was Utuado.

A place in the mountains that has one of the top three most hilly, treacherous looking roads in the middle of a jungle I have ever seen.

Terrifying roads if you’re not confident in driving. At least these ones had guardrails, I think. I’ve seen worse in places where I have thankfully not died thanks to the bus drivers not taking us over an unguarded cliff.

But Utuado certainly had the…jungle mountain atmosphere, and the place we stayed was very nice. It did have a problem with bugs and roaches that I discovered would come out at night, which is a personal note from me.

I hate bugs. But it was very comfortable aside from that one aspect, and I think the highlights from there were the other beach trips and, well, winding up the trip for my return home and to work.

 

I was getting antsy near the end of the trip, which I believe was close to two weeks. My conclusion was that a week or a week and a half is the optimal time for a visit of this style. That’s assuming jetlag doesn’t slam you and you don’t have a more involved schedule.

This trip wasn’t us going to a resort and just hanging out in expensive luxury the entire time. It was pricey in a sense, but we cut down on the expense with Airbnb—I believe I checked, and if I had stayed at a hotel I was recommended, the cost of one room would have paid for all the Airbnbs.

Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. It was my first real vacation in perhaps over a decade, and I still remember the food and moments fondly. I think it recharged me, as much as travelling still takes energy, and I’m more sold on doing another trip somewhere colder next time.

Maybe Norway, or somewhere in the Scandinavian countries. I’ve always wanted to see that, or visit Iceland. I don’t think I’m more than a once-a-year vacationer at most. I hate flying, and I had delays on the way back that meant I was stuck in one airport for seven hours straight.

But I was glad to be with family and to see other countries and not write while I was there. I appreciated the opportunity to do all that, and…well, that’s my blog.

 

I don’t know if you get anything from that, but I consider it a victory for personal reasons as much as the trip itself. I do like Puerto Rico, even if the sun and weather might wear on me if I lived too much under it.

Also, it’s a thousand times better than Nova Scotia, Canada. I still hold a grudge about that trip where my entire family except for me got Covid. That’s all, I might try to write a blog on some new comics and stories I’ve enjoyed soon.

…Also the roaches in Puerto Rico were tiny. Not like real roaches, which are longer than your thumb and fly. So that’s another plus for the entire place.

 

—pirateaba


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