Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

Hasta Luego

When I started this journey in San Juan, I wasn’t sure what I was seeking nor what I needed. I hardly even knew how to answer people when they asked, “Why Puerto Rico?” Now, 30 days later, I still don’t have a ‘good’ answer to any of those questions but I’m not sure that I care. I feel quite confident I found what I was seeking, got what I needed, and have no doubt Puerto Rico was the perfect place to find my way back home to me.

It was divine timing that I had so much alone space before the back-to-back visit of Carolyn and my mamacita. After the deep cleanse on my spirit, I doused my soul’s house with joy and laughter.

I have to give my mom props for coming. First, because she hates flying by herself. Second, because the day before she was to get on the plane, weather forecasts were saying that Hurricane Isaac had a decent likelihood of smacking the island. Not to mention the fearsome reports of Florence up north. I told her that I understood if she wanted to sit out the trip. Her response? “Well. If a hurricane hits I am going to be worried about you so I might as well be worried next to you.” Yep, that must be where I get it from.

As I’ve mentioned already, Carolyn and I are chatterboxes. I also have a reputation for increasing my decibel level in direct proportion to my level of happiness. So, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised when a neighbor politely opened his balcony door at midnight to yell down to our balcony, “Ladies, it’s a work night. Please, and thank you.” Ah, the number of times we heard the same message from our parents in high school. It was a fitting way to close out my time with Carolyn and transition into my Mom’s arrival.

At this point, Hurricane Isaac had shifted south and we felt confident the storm would not directly impact us. However, the waves didn’t get the memo. They were fierce and successive and beautiful — from afar. We bobbed in the pool and soaked up the sun. I think I/we went through 3 large spray canisters of sunscreen during this trip. Yet, my tan is still pretty impressive given my usual ghostly hue.

Mom is my number one blog fan — Aunt Jean and Craig, you follow close behind. As she and I discussed my renewed interest in writing, she kept saying, “You have a book in you, Josie. Not only your blog but a real book.” While my heart says she is right, my head is scared to write. I hope I channel the ‘steel balls’ necklace my waitress in Vieques wears and face my fears head-on.

With each of my visitors also came a visit to Old San Juan. And yet, each time felt new and different. It is such a charming area with its narrow, winding, blue-cobblestoned streets, its hills, and the bright pops of color behind classic rod iron balconies. My mom joined me at Taverna Lupelo, a place that I hadn’t found in a tour book but rather had walked past on my very first visit and always felt drawn to return. I am so pleased I followed my gut; I loved it.

They had quirky artwork including a 3-D elephant head with a beer bottle held by its trunk. There was the gnome wallpaper. They also had coasters from KC’s brewery, Boulevard, like a little postcard from home. We wanted a snack so ordered their Queso Frito — fried cheese. I am not sure what kind of cheese it was but it was heavenly. The outer texture reminded me so much of a toasted marshmallow. I am convinced there was somebody in the kitchen hand-toasting each cheese cube. Plus, it was served with a guava dipping sauce. Basically a stringy, marmalade-y, jammy, deliciousness. I kick myself for not having gone into the bar the very first time I walked by and proceeding to eat fried cheese with guava dip every day for the rest of the trip.

Sun, sea, sand (in moderation), solitude, running in the rain, speaking Spanish, entertaining visitors. Falling back in love with myself. Falling forward into writing. Spending hours on my balcony watching the world go by.

This, I’ll miss… until next time.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

From Rory and Lane to Lorelai and Sookie

I wouldn’t trade my solo journey in Puerto Rico for anything. Likewise, I wouldn’t trade my time with Carolyn in Puerto Rico for anything. I’m a shrewd negotiator so can pull off two zero-sum requirements at once.

Carolyn arrived on Friday and we spent an entire bottle of wine just scratching the surface of catching up. We became friends almost immediately upon me moving to Green Bay in high school. She was my assigned buddy but forgot to pick me up at the office. I always harbored a suspicion she remained friends with me purely from that original guilt, which I’m totally okay with because it resulted in one of the most meaningful relationships in my life.

She is amazing and we are celebrating 21 years of friendship, this year. We met when I was 16. Now, at 37, I have lived more of my life having known Carolyn than not. I credit Carolyn with my first introduction to yoga, to massages, and even to opening my eyes to travel — eventually. In college I genuinely didn’t get why she was so compelled to do study abroad; the wanderlust bug hadn’t yet bitten me.

Now, after 3 weeks alone in Puerto Rico, I had finally processed enough of my ‘stuff’ to bare my soul fully and completely. And, I found myself in the company of somebody compassionate and fierce enough to listen intently and truly hear me. I found validation that my feelings and actions were reasonable and justified. My mind and soul slept soundly.

God, thank you for Carolyn.

We have never been short for words when together — whether in high school or now. Then, it was swing choir, drama club, and boys. Now, it’s corporate strategy, yoga philosophy, and boys. We’re now Lorelai and Sookie. Our pleasantly incessant chatter has had some amazing backdrops.

There was brunch by the ocean, when the jaw-dropping view was eclipsed by a scene straight from a comedic summer blockbuster. A woman running along the beach had her dog off-leash when said dog decided to waltz up the stairs from the beach to the pool and then gingerly traipse across the infinity pool ledge. By this point, the owner had also climbed the stairs and was calling for her dog to ‘come’ — in reality, she may have been using choice Spanish curse words but I believe the intent was ‘here, doggy.’ The dog instead ran off, evading the pool boy and the owner and somehow made it back to the pool ledge. Recognizing its captured status, it decided to take a new path — through the pool. Eventually, Fido’s Pool Party came to a close and the owner exited. I noticed the pool boy swiftly closed the beach to pool area gate to avoid further shenanigans.

There was also the sand and sea at the Marriott beach chairs. After each dip in the ocean, Carolyn and I have the equivalent of a therapy session to understand how the other experienced their time in the water. Carolyn uses words like, “Freedom,” “Happiness,” Wheeeee.” I explain that every moment is like the slo-mo effect that happens in a car crash. There is a constant inner monologue talking me off the cliff of consuming concern, “Josie, just breathe out and the water can’t get in. You are fine. This wave will pass. You are strong.” In my defense, there is a rip tide warning in effect and the waves are larger than they’ve been all trip. To Carolyn’s credit, every time I’m in the ocean her eyes are on me and she’s reaffirming that I am, indeed, doing fine. And, I think I’ve finally made peace with the sand.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

I get by with a little help from my friends

The last few days have been a little rough emotionally. It’s heartbreaking that my/our relationship didn’t work out. But it is salt in the wound to have to coordinate significant life logistics while trying to heal that wound.

I’ve been leaning on folks when my brave face falters. If you’ve received one of those phone calls or texts, thank you. Every single cry for help has been answered. There are also the God-winks along the journey that remind me that I’m not alone and am following His call, no matter how counter-intuitive it sometimes feels. But, one can’t discount the power of music. Meredith Grey would dance away her sorrows and, I have to admit, I’ve been singing away mine. (Sorry neighbors.)

Remember my story about running in the rain and feeling so alive? Part of the reason was that nobody was on the street so I started singing along to my music while I ran. Today, sitting on a deserted beach, I put my headphones in and sang/scream to a playlist I’ve created called “Me.”

I’d like to share some of the lyrics that have embedded themselves into the fabric of my soul and have had a part to play in reminding myself how very much I love “me” and deserve to always do what makes my heart and head happy.

This Is Me – The Greatest Showman

I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Sit Still, Look Pretty – Daya

I know the other girlies wanna wear expensive things
Like diamond rings
But I don’t wanna be the puppet that you’re playing on a string
This queen don’t need a king

Oh, I don’t know what you’ve been told
But this gal right here’s gonna rule the world
Yeah, that is where I’m gonna be because I wanna be
No, I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty

Mister Right could be nice for one night
But then he wanna take control
And I would rather fly solo

Blank Space – Taylor Swift

So it’s gonna be forever
Or it’s gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain

Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane

Many the Miles – Sarah Bareilles

There’s too many things I haven’t done yet
There’s too many sunsets
I haven’t seen
You would’ve thought by now
I’d have learned something

I made up my mind when I was a young girl
I’ve been given this one world
I won’t worry it away, no

But now and again I lose sight of the good life
I get stuck in a low light

‘Cause I’ve had my fair share
Of take care
And goodbyes
I’ve learned how to cry
And I’m better for that

I’ve been talking to God
Don’t know if it’s helping or not
But surely something has got to got to got to give
‘Cause I can’t keep waiting to live

Clean – Taylor Swift

The drought was the very worst
When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst
It was months and months of back-and-forth
Hung my head as I lost the war
And the sky turned black like a perfect storm

Rain came pouring down
When I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe

Growing Pains – Alessia Cara

And I guess the bad can get better
Gotta be wrong before it’s right
Every happy phrase engraved in my mind
And I’ve always been a go-getter
There’s truth in every word I write
But still the growing pains, growing pains
They’re keeping me up at night

Try to mend what’s left of my content incomprehension
As I take on the stress of the mess that I’ve made
Don’t know if I even care for “grown”
If it’s just alone

Starting to look like Ms. Know-it-all
Can’t take her own advice
Can’t find pieces of peace of mind, I cry
More than I want to admit
But I can’t lie to myself, to anyone
‘Cause phonin’ it in isn’t any fun

Used monsters as an excuse to lie awake
Now the monsters are the ones that I have to face
No band-aids for the growing pains

A Different Beat – Little Mix

Out of your comfort zone
‘Cause I’m breaking out
Not breaking down

I got the right
To make up my mind
Say it loud and clear
For the whole wide world to hear

Yeah, we must have different shoes on
We’re marching to a different beat
So baby put your boots on
Keep marching to a different beat

I got my head up
Shoulders back
I’m doing me

I take a look in the mirror
And I like what I see
So baby, I keep marching
To a different beat

Mom – Meghan Trainor

You might have a mom, she might be the bomb
But ain’t nobody got a mom like mine
Her love’s ’til the end, she’s my best friend
Ain’t nobody got a mom like mine

Vieques was the perfect way to end my solo journey. Carolyn comes to visit tomorrow and then she hands over duties to my Momma on Monday. My, how the time has gone.

Given Vieques is farther east, Maria hit it even harder than San Juan. Plus, rebuilding is doubly hard when Home Depot is a flight or ferry ride away. I’ve heard several stories about the difference ‘GoFundMe’ and other crowdfunding sources have provided. The beauty of Vieques is undeniable. When the appreciation of the scenery subsides, you stand in awe of the people. This is a place that could only exist by the power of human will mixed with a dash of God’s grace.

Yesterday, I slept-in and was struggling to rally myself. But, one of the songs from above wormed its way into my head and I decided the best way to listen to it was while running. I was excited to see Playa Negra, the black sand beach and it was about 1.2 miles away. That would be a perfect round-trip run.

True, until I was about 5 minutes in and realized 85-degrees in Vieques was much more humid and stifling than 85-degrees in San Juan. Plus, there were hills. And horses. And the smelly “I was here” memento that horses leave. Then, there was the dark feeling that I was on a back road on a small island and could easily be picked up without anybody knowing for a very long time. So, I turned my music up louder — I always run with just one headphone in so I can be semi-aware of my surroundings. I made it to the turn-off for Playa Negra and was ecstatic. Until I started down the path. Suddenly I recalled somebody saying, “Yes, it’s just a ten-minute walk from the road to the beach. It’s a little trail through a lovely creek area.”

Well, you can see in the photos that the ‘trail’ was really a creekbed. And, those horses had visited here, too. I kept turning a corner and thinking to myself, “Oh. This might be a mistake.” But, then I would encounter people walking back from the beach that would say, “It’s beautiful!” so I moved forward. The last straw was the last turn. It was a pond. No ifs, ands, or butts about it. The only reason I willed myself forward was because I could see the sea behind it.

What a reward! I was the only person on an amazing black sand beach. There were so many small, smooth rocks on the shore. I remembered how, one beach vacation, my sister had us all write our names on a rock and then throw them into the ocean, together. I decided to figuratively write on a couple of rocks. I injected all my pain, failings, sadness, and negativity about certain situations into each rock. And then I chucked them into the sea. “I don’t need to carry you with me, anymore. You can stay here.”

Of course, for one of them, it was misshapen which caused it to not fling very far. I retrieved and re-released it. And, truly, how often in life do we have to re-release what we should have quit carrying long ago. Ironically, as I kept walking down the beach, I found an even larger collection of skipping rocks. I thought to myself, “Ah, of course, all those stones we cast to the sea must end up somewhere. And, here they are.”

I tried to call a taxi to pick me up so I didn’t have to walk back the 1.2 miles but had no luck. I started on my path. At one point, an older couple passed me in a Jeep and then slowed to a stop. The passenger side window rolled down and my guardian-angel-in-the-form-of-a-random-woman asked if I’d like a ride back to town. In classic God-wink style, I saw them later at lunch. I still kick myself for not sending them a ‘thank you’ drink.

I had lunch at the same place as the previous night, Duffy’s. I would come back the next day for lunch, too. In fact, as a result of having a restricted diet and visiting during the off-season, Duffy’s would be the only restaurant I would patronize during my entire Vieques trip. But, we’re still on yesterday and lunch. I enjoyed several Medallas — the beer of Puerto Rico and went ‘home’ to nap before my bio bay tour.

The Bioluminescent Bay — the primary reason I visited Vieques, was so cool. In my enthusiasm, and perhaps because I’m a little more like my mom than I sometimes admit, I was at the tour meeting point 45 minutes early. I spent about 10 of those minutes waiting in line for a different group’s bio bay tour. “Oh. You’re with Fun Brothers. They’ll be here in about 20 minutes.” Rather than sitting there like a kid with no friends at the birthday party, I wandered down to the boat dock. I found a dry rock and enjoyed practicing my most recent mindfulness exercise to the soundtrack of the waves. It was the perfect way to start the tour.

Driving to the bay was easy in the sense that it was a very short ride in an airconditioned, comfortable bus. It was horrific in the sense that, once off the asphalt, the dirt road was pocked with cavernous bumps. On more than one occasion I was fairly certain we had bottomed out and would be stalled there in the middle of, what looked like, the Everglades. We made it to our destination but the swampy Everglades appearance remained.

The tour guide told us to take off our shoes, “It’s a glass bottom boat, so even if you have on water shoes, take them off.” We got off the bus and were each handed a kayak paddle. It felt like Hunger Games. We were partnered up and I was paired with a lovely girl named Maria. She currently lives in Brooklyn but is originally from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

We sloshed in our bare feet through the shore of the bay to our kayak. When the tour guide yelled, “check” each kayak had to shout out our number. We were number two — which immediately made me think of Austin Powers. We paddled out into the completely dark, completely still bay. Even though I had my phone’s dry case and tried to take photos, none were captured. Clearly, you need to get yourself to Vieques to experience it yourself. However, until then, my lackluster and insufficient words will have to suffice.

We called out “TWO!” and fell into line with our fellow kayakers. Suddenly, it was like my eyes were playing tricks and the paddles were glowing. But, only in the water. Then, I looked down at that glass bottom, and bright blue lights were streaking along like an 80’s game of Asteroid. The 90 minutes on the bay passed so quickly. In fact, the only way I knew time was passing was because my elbows were getting sore from paddling.

I am always a little skeptical of tour guides and the info they provide because I think it’s in their interest to embellish, however, on the tour we learned that there are 5 bioluminescent bays in the world and 3 of them are in Puerto Rico. One is in Jamaica and the other is in Thailand. However, the brightest — because it is most dense with the dinoflagellates, is where we were kayaking. The little ‘things’ which have characteristics of both plant and animal, apparently flash seven times per night and then return to the bottom of the bay. They only flash when activated by movement. It was awesome to see fish zip around our kayak with a momentary flare following them. I told Maria that I wish I had a rock to skip across the water. I also told her that I thought the paddle trails looked like a witch’s cauldron. Later, on the bus ride back, someone mentioned it was like fairy dust. In reality, (in that reality where witches and fairies live), they’re just two sides of the same dinoflagellate coin.

Although I was in bed by 10pm, given my brain’s nature I wasn’t asleep until much later, which meant I slept-in again, today. I had been given an invitation by Abe of Abe’s snorkeling adventures to go paddle boarding and snorkeling. I had told him (yesterday, while enjoying my Medallas) that I wasn’t a confident swimmer and had once had a negative snorkeling experience. Backstory: I snorkeled in open waters and couldn’t differentiate the other snorkelers’ black fins from the school of fish. I hyperventilated in the water and promptly returned to the boat.

Abe told me that we’d go snorkeling somewhere I could stand up and that I’d overcome my fears. He said, “Show me your foot.” Which, the Medalla made me do. “You’re 6.5 right? I I’ll bring fins and a snorkeling mask when we go paddle boarding.” While I was impressed he could size my foot so quickly, I still wasn’t sold but told him I’d think about it and maybe stop by his shop the next day. Cut to me waking up the next day (today) with even more confidence that I would NOT be paddle boarding nor snorkeling.

So, I gathered my borrowed beach gear from the cat inn and called a taxi for Sun Bay. It was the beach Maria (from the bio bay tour) had said was the best she had visited on Vieques. It was completely secluded and completely gorgeous. I even found a picnic table in the shade to leave my beach stuff. At one point I tried to set up a beach umbrella but that resulted in me running after the aloft implement for half the distance of the beach. So, then, I mostly spent my time in a beach chair with waves lapping my feet. I think I’ve made peace with the sand.

Remember how I talked about sing-screaming music at the beach? At one point I noticed movement in my periphery and realized a couple was standing right by me. Whoops. Hope they like Taylor Swift karaoke. They hung out for a bit but ultimately wandered on — later that day, my taxi driver would pick them up on his way to drop me off from the beach. Another God-wink.

Then, I sensed another wave of movement from behind me. This time, it was the wild horses of Vieques. It was unsettling and supernatural to see dozens of horses saunter by on the secluded beach. There was one white horse in the bunch, and so, as Karen taught me, I licked my thumb, rubbed my palm and slapped it on my other hand to ensure the wish that I would find happiness might come true. As I finished the superstitious act, I heard a quiet voice whisper, “Happiness is a choice, Josie. You always have it as an option.”

Flying back to San Juan, I looked back at the beautiful shoreline of Vieques. That same quiet voice said, “You’ve left your pain behind, Josie. It’s back there; you don’t need it for this journey.” I immediately thought of my rocks with their figurative writing.

So, baby, I keep marching to a different beat.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

I’m on an island off an island

Today, I flew to Vieques. Me and one other passenger. (!!!) Fortunately, I had the sage words of Michelle with me from the last time I was on an even tinier plane, “The pilot probably doesn’t want to die today, either.” It was a 30-minute flight and while we were nowhere near 30,000 feet, it gave such perspective to the home I have had these last few weeks.

Puerto Rico is a large yet small island. It is lush with vegetation, has tall mountains and vast shoreline. So much packed into such a small package. It’s warm and welcoming but, mention Maria and you see ghosts and long shadows in people’s eyes. It is a melting pot of English and Spanish speakers with spillover accents from Long Island to Europe to Jamaica. Servers bend over backward to accommodate the tourists while young kids cruise the main streets with outrageously loud music playing from their enormous truck-bed-mounted speakers. It’s a beguiling island. I, humbly, relate.

Anyway, back to the plane. I had been texting with my mom just before ‘boarding’ (aka the pilot saying, “Hey, are you on this flight? Come with me.”) My mom does not care for small planes, so sending her a photo of what I was getting into (literally) may have been a miscalculation. I realized midway through my flight, as I was calmly and cooly enjoying the view, that my mom was probably far more stressed and nervous for me than I was during my time in a tiny tin box in the sky. It speaks to the power of the mind and our ability to create a vivid false reality.

Flight fears aside, I made it safely to Vieques — and immediately updated my momma. It’s an island known for their wild horses. I saw over 30 as we drove the 15 minutes from the airport to Esperanza (where I’m staying). They wander the streets and graze freely. Lisa, my driver, told me that they sometimes cause traffic accidents just like deer. Can you imagine what a horse would do to your car?!?!? We also passed some iguanas sunning by the street. “Toto, based on this roadkill, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

The beach here is amazing. The water is shallow and clear with light waves lolling into shore. Apparently, the snorkeling is pretty amazing, too. I did not partake as I prefer to pretend there are NOT plenty of fish in the sea. But, while I was sunning on a makeshift post-hurricane pier, I could hear the family in the water saying things like, “Did you see that stingray?” “Woah, there’s a squid.” “Wow, what is that fish — do you think it’s alive?” No. No, thank you. Truth be told, even just hearing about the fish in the water below the pier of wood I was on proved too much; I went and found another stretch of beach.

Some of you might recall my adventure in Sicily several years ago when I spent Halloween night in a hopping hostel. However, it was during the off-season so I was the only person — in the entire building. No front desk person, no nada. Well, I was in Italy, so, no niente.

Yet again, I find myself in a bustling summer guesthouse and am the only guest. It’s delightful to have run of the roost but also sort of eery. I can’t decide whether it hurts or helps that it’s overrun with cats and roosters. (See what I did there with my run of the roost / rooster pay off? Thanks.) My room opens up directly to the courtyard area where cats are everywhere. One of the kittens (that doesn’t yet know any better) has befriended the sole human. The other kitties all keep their distance and, in that language-agnostic cat way, look at me as an intruder in their space. They’re not wrong.

It is such a shame to be in a place known for its beaches and hate the beach. I’m trying to figure out the root cause — spoiler alert, it’s the sand. But why do I hate the sand so much? Is it my shoes? Is it my attitude? Is it because I’m short so my face is closer to the ground? Tomorrow, I am going to bring a beach umbrella, two towels, a beach chair, and two pairs of shoes. I’m going to face this anti-sand sitch head-on. Wish me luck.

Tonight, I have sought the refuge of people in the only open restaurant/bar. It’s also where I ate lunch. Thankfully they have more than one vegetarian option because I suspect this may be where I’m eating tomorrow, too. And the next day. Visiting in the offseason has its drawbacks but I’m still very happy to be here on this island in the sun — playing, having fun.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

Labor Day Weekend Continued

No blog post today, just some photos.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

Labor Day Weekend

Yesterday, after mass, I tried out a new restaurant. Not just new to me but also new to San Juan. I had been observing it over the past couple of weeks. The name is “Tavola” which sounded Italian. Obviously, I took note. Sure enough, a few days later there was a board out front saying it had homemade pasta and organic wine. A few more days later I happened to walk by when two gentlemen were having their photos taken in front of a sign that proudly said, “Tavola is now open, serving pizzas, homemade pasta, and organic wine. Join us!” And, so I did.

The wine list hadn’t yet been printed so they brought me a tablet (not like a Moses stone tablet but a Surface Pro digital tablet) with their, as-advertised, organic wines. I ordered the risotto after being assured it was not made with chicken stock. About 5 minutes later the waiter came out to clarify, “So, our risotto is made with chicken soup, but you just want water, instead?” Yup.

As I waited and enjoyed my organic vino, a young man came out with a Bluetooth speaker. He was getting it set up for the first time and placed it on the patio under a palm tree. I thought, “Well done, you. Creating ambiance but in a subtle way. You’ll capture the attention of passersby and immediately indicate the type of experience to expect. He must be the owner.” After he went back inside, my waiter came out to ask if the music was too loud: “He thinks he’s a DJ but he’s the cook.” I laughed out loud.

Then, after about 15 more minutes, my waiter returned again, “So, are you like a vegetarian with the cheese and butter?” I gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up to the cheese and butter. The risotto was delicious. Though, to be fair, there was enough truffle oil to have made dog food taste pretty good. I mentioned to the waiter that I’d noticed the sign saying they were new. He told me the crew had been working together at a different restaurant for years before Maria. After the hurricane, the two business partners separated and this group went with the “better” business partner moving operations to Condado. He said they all had to take Spanish classes so they could communicate with the tourists in the area. When I commended him on his language skills, he said, “I watched lots of Dora the Explorer!” I couldn’t help but laugh and tell him how English-speakers watch Dora the Explorer to learn Spanish. Un muy buen sábado. Yes, a very good Saturday, indeed.

Usually, I have great success with my travel guidebooks giving me indications of interesting local activities like farmer’s markets, weekend flea markets, and artisan markets. (Apparently, this marketer likes a good market.) However, I have been striking out in San Juan with my Lonely Planet book. Sure, there was a massive hurricane that devastated the local economy. I get that. And, I may sound unfeeling, but markets are usually pretty low-key productions — and, I would think, stimulate the local economy. Yet, when I visited the San Juan weekly weekend farmer’s market, it wasn’t there. When I visited the artisan market that happens the first Sunday of every month, it wasn’t there.

However, in seeking each out, I enjoyed plenty of other sights that weren’t necessarily in the guidebook — like the VIP Birthday event at the lagoon. (Gaby and Vivian, we should have monetized “Fourth Grade Birthday Weekend” all those years ago!!)

An area of town I hadn’t yet explored was Isla Verde so I decided to spring for the $10 Uber and check it out. At first, I marveled at the beautiful boutique hotels and luxury apartments. I had read that Condado (where I am staying) was considered the high-end neighborhood. Maybe Maria didn’t impact this area as much but these high rises were gorgeous.

Once at the beach, Isla Verde had a completely different feel than the touristy Condado beaches. These were locals enjoying their long holiday weekend. I had to, again, remind myself that I was not in a foreign country but rather a territory of America that primarily speaks Spanish.

I found a great oceanfront bar and grill (thanks, Google). They didn’t have any beach-facing seats available so the hostess suggested I put in my order and then sit next door at a shack-like bar until my food was ready. And, guess what, the fancy shack establishment had Miller Lite in a can! I haven’t yet mentioned the beer cans in Puerto Rico. They’re 10 ounces rather than 12 ounces so, even drinking a Miller Lite, you feel rather lady-like. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Anyway, when my food was ready I returned and found a seat facing the beach. Winner, winner, (vegetarian) chicken dinner! And the people-watching commenced.

The woman in charge was a no-nonsense, tiny, spitfire. Or, at least, I assume she was in charge. She reminded me of the San Juan mayor screaming about the enormity of Maria’s impact while Trump and the Puerto Rican governor were saying, “Storms happen. NBD.” I’m certain that this woman got her workers together as soon as possible after the hurricane to ensure they were back up and thriving — to support themselves and their patrons.

With that same “pulled up by my own bootstraps” spirit, the reason I was able to find a beach-facing seat available at the bar was because six feet away, a worker was cutting tile. That is not a quiet task. And one that produces a decent amount of tile dust. I decided, “It’s Labor Day!” and “Viva Puerto Rico Repairs!” (and also, “there aren’t any other seats available that face the beach”) so I stayed put. This allowed me to befriend little miss spitfire who eventually moved me to the best seat in the house. (She said she liked my keyboard and phone setup. Thanks, Amazon.)

However, before I left my people-watching perch I was treated to an absolute delight. A bodybuilder with his petite significant other sat at the bar with three friends: two hairy terriers and one pug pup. The person sitting next to the lady left her seat, to which she promptly placed two of the dogs in the vacant chair. Right, because dogs deserve seats at the bar?!? Amazing. I loved picturing this buff guy with their three dogs when she wasn’t around. I really hope he fawns over them and brushes their hair like I see it in my mind.

While I wanted to while away the day drinking mini Miller Lites and watching the Isla Verde world pass me by, I had other important business to attend to — a nap. I chalked up another couple thousand steps on my Fitbit exploring more of Isla Verde and then Ocean Beach and finally gave in to my whining feet and Uber’ed the rest of the way home.

Enjoy the photos from this weekend! Next week I’m taking a few vacation days off work and visiting Vieques. Then, Carolyn comes to visit and then my momma. Then, and I can hardly believe it, I head home. A month older, a shade tanner, a month wiser, and probably a tad wider, too. Speaking of, I think I’ll have Italian, tonight.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

My Walden

I’ve been thinking about Thoreau and how he had to ‘get away from it all’ to pen his masterpiece, Walden. Then, as intentionality/universe/”U”niverse/God would have it, I came across this quote in a book:

“When man has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I knew I needed time alone but I wasn’t really sure why. I figured I’d eventually figure it out. I think that maybe I have.

I’ve done a lot while I’ve been in Puerto Rico but I also have found myself with periods of boredom and loneliness. Not sad loneliness but literal alone-ness. When you’re not talking to another person all day, the brief banter with a Starbucks barista becomes significant and cherished. I’ve read books — yes, plural. I’ve binged on television shows. I’ve done my conference calls and emails. So, what do I do once I’ve done all the typical things that I use as procrastination techniques to avoid doing what I’m meant to do? I started writing. I started building a freelancer website. I started analyzing the sparks of the reason I’m on this earth and how I’m intended to serve others.

Ah. That’s why I needed to be alone.

It’s worth noting that I’m not saying people can only figure that stuff out if they’re alone. I’m saying that I needed to be alone to figure it out. I’m also quite certain I haven’t actually figured out anything and am simply on a new path of discovery that I hadn’t noticed, before. This time here in Puerto Rico is my time at Walden’s Pond.

Yesterday, I went on my Couch to 5K run. It was the first time I finished and felt like I’d done a good job and not half-assed it. After breakfast, I walked back along a new route and found myself wanting to run some more — and so I did. Then, I found myself in an unbelievable tropical downpour. Nobody else was on the streets as even strong umbrellas weren’t up to the task. But, I had on my visor and was already in my wet-from-sweat attire, so I kept running. It was exhilarating.

The force in which I was moving forward matched the force in which the rain was pummeling me. It was a beautiful and vigorous dance. I tried to snap a photo but even my phone refused to work under the given conditions. I found myself smiling gleefully as I ran in the rain past huddled folks under awnings. I maybe have never felt more alive. Sure, a cliche, but now one I can truly wrap my arms around. After my running desire waned, I was still several blocks from home so kept on walking. As I’d encounter puddles I would literally slosh through them like a child. It was delightful. Walden’s Puddle?

Today, the office closed early for the long Labor Day weekend. We’d caught a break in the rain so I decided to try the beach, again. This time I took less stuff in my bag but grabbed the apartment’s beach chair and boogie board. Out of guilt for hauling them, I used and enjoyed both.

I love how the ocean is the great equalizer of the ego. I thoroughly enjoyed watching people in their cutest beach attire tiptoe into the ocean for their partner to take their picture. Within a few moments, a wave would knock them from their perfectly posed footing and the resulting smile was pure joy and far better than their previously staged serenity. I bet I watched this exact same scenario seven times.

I also learned that you can use the Marriott beach chairs and umbrellas if you spend $20. Nachos, Pina Colada, done. I loved my day at the beach, although I still had altogether too much sand, everywhere. After my pina colada (plus contraband rum drinks I brought from the apartment) and wave jumping, I napped hard. It was almost sunset and I had a date with Bruno Mars.

Okay, I said that for dramatic effect. A local outdoor shopping center is hosting a “Friday Night Sunset Concert Series” with a Bruno Mars tribute band. Currently, I am sipping a Chardonnay and doing the equivalent of squinting my ears to make myself believe that’s Bruno I hear crooning.

Happy Friday, indeed.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

Won’t you be my neighbor?

It’s always nice when people ask me when I’m going to post my next update. “They like me, they really like me.”

Today, I am blogging from the same Mexican restaurant that welcomed me on my very first day in San Juan, almost two weeks ago. I tend not to repeat places when I travel but this spot serves warm salsa and it’s delicious. Ironically, the only other place that I’ve repeated is next door — the Italian grampa spot.

Although I haven’t been going to many of the same places, I’ve definitely been staying in a pretty tight perimeter. Not because I’m afraid to go elsewhere or am too cheap to Uber places (well, I am pretty cheap) but mostly, it’s because there are enough places in my little neighborhood to keep me happy. And I love being able to walk to dinner and back to my apartment.

Because I’ve stayed in the same little area, I have started recognizing people. There’s the elderly man with long hair and a longer beard. He sits in the second row at church and usually has his backpack with him when I see him walking on the street. I don’t think he’s homeless, probably just an old surfer that believes scruffiness is next to Godliness.

Then, there’s the woman that begs for money across from the CVS. She has her lawn chair hidden behind a construction fence and usually is humming to herself. Today, I saw her looking more pulled together and walking on a different part of the beach sans chair and sans cup. I know some folks might say, “She probably makes $100,000 a year off sucker tourists.” Yeah? If so, so what? Everybody has to make their way somehow.

There’s also the guy with his dog in front of Walgreens. He splits the location with another woman — I never see them together but they both use the same sign. I wish I had the cajones to sit down and ask each of them their story but I just muster a slight smile and “God Bless.” Maybe we can get the people behind Humans of New York to come south. With today’s announcement of the increased Maria death toll count, there must be thousands of stories to share. God Bless, indeed.

One of my favorite people is the animated waiter at the crepe cafe downstairs from my apartment whose sing-song voice is pure delight and has worked every day that I’ve been here. I like to think he’s going to make it into the chorus for Hamilton when Lin Manuel Miranda does the San Juan tour in January.

Finally, the three individuals that rotate the front desk of my apartment. I wonder if, in the same way that I concoct stories for all the people I’m passively encountering, if they’ve created a narrative about the single, white girl that always smiles and says ‘Hola’ with a terrible Spanish accent. If only they would spot me sitting on my balcony in my pajamas rocking my Time-Life operator work headset. That would add some interesting texture to their story.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

Island Time

I’ve found the weekends in San Juan are indulgently lazy. Maybe that’s the wrong word since I walked over 12,000 steps last Saturday. But, because I have no social activities filling them up, weekends feel like an eternity. Nothing I have to do. Nowhere I have to be. Nobody I have to see. (I’m sure my friends with small children are cursing me.)

The ‘spare time’ feels almost like a burden. As though I should be filling it up with something. But, that’s part of why I had to cleave myself from the comfort and familiarity of home. I needed to sit alone, to have time on my hands to just be me and see what comes of it.

So, today, I’ve been reading and writing. I went to mass and then to a delightful bistro/beauty salon that was advertised in the back of the bulletin. I got caught in a rainstorm and popped into a BBQ place that I never would have otherwise visited. It was wonderful to sit outside under cover from the rain and sip on a cocktail while texting with friends and family.

Back at the apartment, I decided to sweep and wash a few dishes. It felt good to be productive. I’m definitely not an idler (please note that procrastination is a totally different topic and I can easily spend hours in a state of procrastination that looks like idling). I am so eager to get to what’s next in my life, to move forward, to keep pushing. But, I tell myself again, I extracted myself as a way to force myself to be alone and idle. What’s next will present itself when it’s ready — and when I’m ready.

Puerto Rico Journey, Uncategorized

Choose your paradise

Yesterday, I visited Ben & Jerry’s. Some of you know that my Dad’s alias is “Ice Cream Man” and it won’t surprise you that I went at his suggestion. As I strolled along the beach back to my apartment, I was struck by the beauty of the water. However, when you increased your visual aperture and took in the full picture, there were dark clouds overhead. The clouds must have appreciated being noticed because they chose that moment to show off — I found an abandoned beach umbrella just in time. As I’m learning about my temporary home, it rains hard and fast in Puerto Rico, and then as quickly as it comes, it goes. The ground had almost dried itself by the time I got back.

As a well-camouflaged introvert, I have thoroughly enjoyed being alone with my own company this past week and a half. As a solo female traveler, I’ve been cautious about where I go after dark, especially on the hopping weekend nights. But, there’s a quiet FOMO (fear of missing out) pang when, at 11pm, I hear the whoops and hollers of bachelorette parties and revelers down on the street while I’m watching Parks & Rec on my couch with a glass of red wine.

Or, like earlier today, when I was reading my Kindle inside and noticed how beautiful it was outside. I was so super comfortable and happy where I was, but, look at those palm trees! There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I knew it would take me less than 5 minutes to be down at the pool. As I rolled over to get up and head out, I groaned. It made me stop in my tracks and realize, I didn’t WANT to go down to the pool. I was perfectly content in the A/C, laying on the couch, reading my book, occasionally looking out the window. So why was I forcing myself to go enjoy paradise, when I already had paradise found.

Suddenly, there was no FOMO, just gratitude for a choice made.