Here’s where the journey begins, but not where it ends. We're not sure where it ends.
We’ve lived here for the past six years, lived it and loved it. But now it’s getting to be time to go.
When Joni Mitchell wrote “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” in the 60's, she could have been foreseeing what was going to happen in Puerto Rico. But for me it’s yet a paradise, with the added advantage of being able to make a living. During six years in the San Juan metro area, I’ve constantly felt gentleness and happiness in it. It’s busy, but busy in a tropical green. Just a little away from the traffic, the noise dies down and other sounds come out. In evening, the sky over the city has low, scattered clouds and they light up pink and purple.
Somewhere Between America and Africa
When you look at a map, you see how far out in the ocean Puerto Rico really is. It’s about halfway between Africa and much of America. Living here can feel that way -- like you are living somewhere in between.
You carry US dollars in your pocket, but you know you are not in the US. The cars and fast food restaurants look kind of familiar, but the culture in work and life is something different -- that is, it’s Puerto Rican. In this we’ve continuously felt glimmers of something familiar. Not so much to experiences in the US, but rather to other places. Except here it’s in Spanish.
Where Have The Horses Gone?
Just a few years ago, you’d often see twenty people on horseback in the evening, galloping down the pavement outside our urbanization in Guaynabo, for fun. I don’t know where they are now.
When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago, is a memoir that describes how it used to be. It is moving to read it in the context of living awhile in modern Puerto Rico. I can really feel the significance of the past tense in the title.
In this book, a rural barrio named Macún is immortalized. I realized that Macún is only a few miles from where we’ve lived all these years. But even if it wasn’t, I would have still made the pilgrimmage.
To get to Macún, turn off Road 2 and park. Walk a little ways in, and you’ll find a quiet lane that curves through the bottom of a little valley between two green hills. If you walk down this lane, past the houses and trees and roosters, and you’ve read the book, you might feel a pull of emotion…like you are walking back through decades. Here it is, here it still is…this is where it all happened. This is the path that Negi walked to get to school. Over there could be where Doña Ana's house was, where everyone hunkered down during the hurricane of 1956. And that slope over there could be where Raymond got his foot stuck in the gears of that bike.
When you get to the end of the lane, you'll be pulled out of this reverie and you might surprised by what you find. But it’s fitting. To have a look, click here.
Some Of The Things That I Loved
La Casita Blanca restaurant in Santurce, from the handshake (on entering) to the shot of licorice liquor with three coffee beans (on leaving), for “health, money, and love”.
Medalla beer in 10-ounce cans, especially served in any little bar by the road, with ice congealed to the top. The bartender holds it by the top, “thwacks” it with her index finger, and listens to the sound and vibration to make sure you get a beer and not a beer slurpee.
The Coconut Palms Inn, and the beach town of Rincón, “The Town of Beautiful Sunsets”, on the island’s west end. The Tropical Fish room is a peaceful apartment tucked in a garden behind the main house, our home for at least two dozen visits. The bedroom can be made cool, silent, and very dark at any time of the day…a good place to go into a coma (787-431-4313).
Flying kites at El Moro fort in Old San Juan, and skateboarding in the nearby plaza. Then walk down the hill to the Children’s Museum. On the way back, get Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
Curvy mountain road trips, with the houses and towns appearing out of the forests in the sunshine.
Café D’Aquí. It’s one of the cheaper bags of coffee and it can be inconsistent, but damn is it good! You can get it at Amigo and Grande, but not at Pueblo.
Coquís chirping at night of course…and friendly geckos running under the couch…and the occasional huge, ferocious-looking, harmless iguana crossing your path, or deciding to hang out in your garage.
Running on the beach. Below I highlight two that I stumbled across, adopted, and pounded on about two hundred times. I’m sure you could find your own. As for these two, I can attest that you might find another soul or two while you are there, and you might not. The southern one has a beer shack called Yolanda’s that opens on Sundays and plays music.
There is a dove that coos four times. It can be in the morning, or in the afternoon. It is the most soothing sound that I know. Someone told me it is the Eurasian Collared Dove, but I don’t believe that is correct.
¿Quién Somos, y a Dónde Vamos?
Who are we, and where are we going?
Long ago, my Spanish teacher explained to me why she thinks this is a perennial Puerto Rican question.
But it is also something I continue to ask of myself…and I hope I always will. It sure feels like an honest question right now.
Thank you, Puerto Rico, for setting me up! Thanks for everything.