Puerto Rico is many things. It’s Spanish. It’s American. It’s Caribbean. And frankly, I hardly feel qualified to write anything about it at all, which is perhaps why it’s taken me over a month to work up the nerve to write this post, because who am I to say anything about Puerto Rico?
Luckily, I did get to visit Puerto Rico with Puerto Ricans, who helped me see a side of Puerto Rican that most tourists don’t get to see.
The idea to go to Puerto Rico started out at Three Dots and a Dash, a trendy new cocktail tiki bar in Chicago. Heather and I were there hanging one night with our friends Vanesa, who is from Puerto Rico, her husband Gil, and Mariana and Alex. Vanesa said, “hey, we’re going to Puerto Rico during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Wanna come?”
Yes, we said. Yes, we did want to come. The next day, we booked our tickets, and started planning our trip to Puerto Rico.
That’s how trips start, you know. With simply the decision to go.
So, here goes.
We take the flight with Vanesa and Gil from cold, dreary Chicago to the sunny skies and blue waters of Puerrrto Rico! This was in April, and believe me, in April, Chicago is still cold and dreary.
We land, pick up our rental car, and head to our hotel, Da House (despite the name, perfectly charming…), right in the heart of Old San Juan. We parked our stuff in the hotel and then set out to explore the streets. (Vanesa and Gil had headed to their family’s house, where we later joined them for dinner.)
For the first time in months, I felt the sun’s warm rays on my skin again. Every time this happens, it’s like I’ve forgotten that such pleasant weather can actually exist. And then summer comes again, and I forget all about winter. (My short-term memory for the weather is probably the only thing that gets me through living in this climate.)
Time to leave San Juan! In Puerto Rico, a rental car is practically indispensable, unless you plan to spend all your time just in Old San Juan. Even San Juan is largely navigable only with a car. We spent the morning exploring Old San Juan again, walking those charming, colonial streets, eating mallorcas and drinking cafés con leche. A mallorca is a pastry from the Spanish island of Mallorca, where it’s called an ensaimada. Vanesa’s dad told us that in Puerto Rico, they started calling them mallorcas, because that’s where they’re from, and the name stuck.
From there, we drove to the west side of Puerto Rico, where we would be joining Vanesa’s family for a few days on the beach. We went to Cabo Rojo/Boquerón, a place, Vanesa told me, that was more “internal tourism”. Puerto Ricans vacation there much more than Americans do. (Americans apparently go to Rincón.) So Heather and I headed to our Airbnb digs of… a tent. I’ll admit that I had my reservations. Sleeping in a tent in the jungle of Puerto Rico was more Heather’s idea of a good time than mine, but we made shrimp scampi in the attached outdoor kitchen and listened to the coquis all night long, and all was well. (It was really a pretty extravagant tent.)
Beach time! Basically, this:
There’s something about sand and sun and lapping sea water that just feels so indulgent.