It was full of opportunities to learn lessons as, I suppose, many trips are. (I'm thinking back now to how a crazy lady kicked my son and I out of her house in Spain. It ended up being one of my favorite things that happened on that trip, because it taught my son a lot of lessons - that you can still take care of yourself in a strange country even when you can't speak the language, for one). Full of many opportunities, but, in a nutshell, one lesson emerged: Just deal. Things will still turn out just fine.
This time the lessons started even before my man and I left, when we had a mix-up with our tickets that took way more money to correct than I wanted to spend. (But I'm trying to put that memory behind me, so don't ask). Then, our plane left at 1:30am. While that meant we didn't have to spend an entire day traveling (we got to the island at noon), it certainly meant we also didn't get a night's sleep. I slept poorly on both legs of the flight, my man slept not at all. A sign that I've matured over the years: I was not crabby due to lack of sleep. In my younger days, that was certainly not the case.
Of course, the beautiful views we flew over helped:
A friend once told me about an article she'd read about three things husbands and wives can't do together if they have a poor working relationship. I don't remember two of them. The third was paddle a canoe. I remember that so well because it was very true of my ex and I. I've spent as much time on the water as he's spent not on the water, and paddling a canoe is a simple thing for me. Not only did he not know what he was doing in a canoe, but he couldn't take direction from me. My aunt was there one day he and I tried to take the canoe out, and she still talks about how horribly he treated me. So when my man and I booked a kayaking excursion for our first night in PR, I was excited, because I knew he and I would not have any issues paddling in sync.
It was recommended (wisely) that we not bring cameras on the kayak. So the top two photos (below) were taken by a tour guide. The bottom two I stole off the internet, so credit to whoever it's due. The bottom left picture shows the mangrove channel we paddled through. It took about half an hour, and was amazing to be so surrounded by all those trees. At the end, we dumped out into a huge bay (bottom right). There we waited for the sky to get dark. When it was pitch black, we put our hands in the water and watched them glow. The bay is full of dinoflagellates that, when stirred up, glow. Our hands looked like they had white shimmery powder coming off them. I'd wanted to see these since I first read about them in college. Sometimes it takes 20-some years for dreams to come true, but the wait is worth it.
The kayaking company recommended coming in a swimsuit, because you get wet. I took that very literally, and showed up in my bikini. Hey, it's a tropical island, right? However, I was the only one on the entire tour so dressed. Everyone else either had on normal clothes, or had normal clothes on over a swimsuit you couldn't see. Not only that, but we were in a park teeming with many water-fun companies and picnickers. I hate it when stuff like this happens. Again, in my younger days I would have been horrified and either stayed in the car or gone shopping. I did have a skirt on, but that was not something I could kayak in. I also had a long-sleeved top along, which I did wear. Not that it mattered in the end. I was in a kayak in the dark. Big deal.
After the kayaking, we drove down to our first hotel, which really was more like small bungalows on the beach. My man's step mom, who's been to the island many times with his dad, recommended this place (and their sangrias - which we started on with breakfast the next morning and just continued throughout the day. Fortunately the sun burns off alcohol) :-).
It was gorgeous, obviously. We spent the entire day on the beach that day. For some reason, although the place was hopping with people, almost all of them stayed in the pool. I was extremely OK with that. For me, fewer people = more happy. We took a couple-hour walk to a lighthouse down the beach, and it was on that walk that I finally lost the lens cap to my camera after many years of miraculously finding it on other various occasions it's come off (my lens is a bit bent from some past mishap, so the cap never fit quite right). Oh well.
The second day there, our rental car got a flat. Fortunately, due to the laying-in-the-sun-all-day mentality that overtakes me when I'm near water, we didn't need the car till we drove to a not-so-nearby-town (there was really nothing nearby this place) for dinner that evening. Also fortunately, my man can change a tire in literally five minutes. That kind of thing would have been a full-day tragedy if it had been up to me to take care of.
Below, the bottom and top right photos are from where we stayed in Maunabo. The top left photo is from Isabela, the next place we went. It took quite a few hours to drive there, as we went to basically the complete opposite end of the island (from southeast to northwest). It also took a while because we had to stop and exchange the car, as the spare was also going flat.
We had laid on the beach that morning, but after leaving around noon, exchanging the car, checking into our hotel room, then moving rooms because the A/C in ours wasn't working, it was too late for anything more than a walk on the beach and dinner. We spent the next two nights we would be in Isabela, a place where Kristen, a friend of mine from my Peace Corps days, recommended.
From our walk on the beach:
High above Isabela is a bluff overlooking the hamlet and ocean. On this bluff are quite a few very large homes. One of these houses had tons of windows in the front - and I love me some windows in a home! After one failed attempt to find it, we came upon the back of the house. I snapped a quick picture, and then the owners, who were in the driveway, came up to the car. Within moments D and J had invited us into the yard to take in the view and, a few minutes later, take in some sangria as well. We stayed about an hour, then headed back down the hill for dinner of - for the first time - "American" food. We'd been eating mofongo and/or seafood for most meals up till then.
The next morning, after another walk on the beach, we headed to San Juan for the evening. We were extremely glad to get away from the hotel in Isabela if for no other reason that the bed was horrible. I don't know how we even slept on that thing. San Juan was the only place we'd not made hotel reservations, but there are so many hotels there we knew it wouldn't take much to find one. Fortunately, that was correct, because I realized that when I get to a new place (especially one I only have a few hours in) I want to see as much as possible as soon as possible. Hotel hunting was suddenly not what I wanted to spend my time doing. We ended up here, dumped our stuff, and immediately headed into Old San Juan, which is where all these next photos are from. Fortunately we were rolling in over the cobblestone streets about the same time all the cruise ships were rolling out on the waves (remember, less people = more happy).
"discovered" by a Peace Corps volunteer. We finished the evening with a delicious dinner of cevice and fish tacos - and bacon doughnuts for dessert.
It's a bit windy near the coast. Sometimes that makes pictures difficult...
The next day was our last, and we didn't even have a full day - our plane was scheduled to leave at 3pm. The only day of vacation we set our alarm, we were up at 6am so we could drive about an hour to the rainforest. I have been to somewhere around 20 countries, and have been to many various ecosystems, but this was my first time in a rainforest. The first thing I really noticed was how my camera kept wanting to turn the flash on - all those trees blocked so much sun!
Check out the much-bigger-than-me palm tree frond! Also check out that amazing body next to me... Never mind if you don't want to - I'll check it out for you. Whew!
After the rain forest, we returned the rental car only to be told we owed $400 for the flat tire/damage to the car. We did not end up having to pay it due to an error made by the guys at the location where we traded cars. Fortunately we'd left enough time to get to the airport, because that took a while. Again, everything turned out fine.
Final thoughts: It was interesting to be in a place where iguanas run around in the wild, termites built huge mounds in trees, and a lizard running across the road can be mistaken for a squirrel. Yes, it was that big.
It was also interesting to be in a territory of the United States. Of all the places I've been, this was also a first, and honestly, I didn't really know how to process it. I "didn't have a hook to hang it on," as a friend said to me once. I'm used to going somewhere new and having pretty much every single thing being very specific to that culture. Of course, in most places I've been, especially in the larger cities (Cairo, Budapest), you run across a McDonald's or Pizza Hut occasionally. But it was VERY strange for me to be in a place that was obviously not "American" in many respects (the language, the local food), but very "American" in others - road signs and rules, for one. But mostly the McDonald's chains next to the Pizza Huts next to the Church's Chickens next to the Walgreens stores next to the Home Depots next to the Chili's restaurants next to the Walmarts - on seemingly every corner in most towns of any mentionable size. I didn't have a point of reference for this, and it bothered me the entire trip. Even now, I don't know how to verbally distinguish between something Puerto Rican and something "American" (hence the quotation marks, because Puerto Ricans ARE American).
No matter, I guess. The important things were clear:
Just deal, and everything will be fine.
The sun, water, and sangrias make issues much easier to deal with.
My man and I can paddle together.
Life is good.