Most of the last week, Michael and I have been right on the beach. In Florida, we were able to walk to the beach from our hotel room for Jen’s wedding. Here in Puerto Rico, we are also in a hotel right on the beach. I can hear the sound of the ocean when we keep the balcony door open (a necessary thing to make the internet work). I’ve missed the beach, living in Colorado. At least in San Francisco I could see water, even if it was too cold to get in.
I’m not saying that I want to live in a beach town again. Don’t get me wrong – beach towns are beautiful places to live. I like that it’s warm and green near the ocean. I just don’t like that the humidity in the air causes mold, a substance to which I am sensitive in the respiratory region. I do however, love sitting on the beach and watching the sea life, such as it is.
I’m not seeing so much wildlife here in Puerto Rico. San Juan is a very congested city, where the traffic laws are more like suggestions. One thing I do like about the traffic – the drivers expect pedestrians to dart across the streets whether or not there are crosswalks, and they just slow down for them. The drivers is the continental US honk their horns and scream obscenities at anyone who dares walk outside the lines.
Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States – it’s a US territory. The thing is, they have no congressional representatives, and therefore do not pay federal tax. They have their own laws, but the US government steps in if they detect corruption. The limbo state of Puerto Rico makes it a slightly jarring mix of Caribbean culture and the US lifestyle. For example, when I saw a familiar gas station, I looked at the sign, curious to know if the gas prices differed from those at home. I was startled to see the prices as double digit numbers – cents, not dollars! I then realized that the price is a per liter measure, and that it is indeed similar to the prices at home. The locals speak Spanish here (most at least understand English), but they look like Floridians to me (a little darker, I suppose). The grocery stores and drug stores were really the most confusing. Even though the stores are the same as those I am used to, and the brands they sell are the same ones I have at home, some of them have been renamed. The signs on the shelves are written in Spanish, despite the English description on the boxes.
I took two years of Spanish in High School. While I cannot really speak well in Spanish, I have a good idea of what the signs say. This sign, for instance,
I have come to the conclusion that if you have a rudimentary understanding of the Spanish language, you could get by here.
The flight to get to Puerto Rico didn’t take all that long from Orlando – maybe two and a half hours. We almost didn’t make our flight, however, due to a problem with the rental car. As we were loading the car with our luggage, Michael noticed that one of the tires went flat. We called the rental company, and they said that we would have to call their roadside assistance. We were then told to change to the spare tire ourselves and drive it to the nearest office for a tire change or a new car. The catch is, tires these days are installed using an air gun, making the lug nuts so tight that you must have an air gun to remove them. The spare tire kit in your trunk is total crap. We couldn’t change the tire, so we needed someone to come out and do it. The rental company said it would take 45 minutes or so to get there, change the tire to a spare, and then we could go somewhere to get it replaced. We were already leaving later than we wanted for the airport. We then decided to call Jen (the bride from the wedding the day before) to pick us up and take us to the airport (which was two hours and twenty minutes away from the hotel) and abandon the car. It took an hour to convince the rental company to pick up the freaking vehicle. They seemed to think it was unimportant to get to the airport on time, and that we could just make it work ourselves. Really poor customer service on their part. As it stood, we made it to the airport with less than ten minutes left before they wouldn’t check our bags. Because of our distress, the other passengers in the bag line ushered us ahead. It was one of those rare moments where strangers showed a great kindness. We made it in just under the wire. We ran to security, where we actually had to go through secondary (they tested our hands for traces of something), then we ran to our gate. I was so exhausted by the time we made it to the jet way. If we had been maybe five minutes later, we’d have completely missed the flight.
When we landed, a colleague of Michael’s, Rolando, picked us up and took us to see Old San Juan. I couldn’t take pictures since I was in such a hurry to drop my luggage at the hotel that I forgot the camera, but the pictures wouldn’t have been great anyhow. The sun sets early here (daylight savings time is not observed), and the roads were gridlocked, so we couldn’t get to many of the places Rolando wanted to take us. We did, however, get to go by the governor’s mansion, which is rarely open to the public. After the limited sight-seeing and dinner, Michael and I crashed in the hotel room.
Today, we planned to go to the beach and go shopping, but a storm coming in made it dangerous to get in the water. Instead, we wandered withing walking distance of the hotel. The hotel itself is a resort hotel, very pretty to look at.
The rest of San Juan is very different. At dinner the night before, Rolando’s wife warned us not to walk at night, and not to wear jewelry out of the hotel. I’ve lived in a big city, so I am aware of crime and the need to stay alert. I was not prepared for what lay just a few blocks from the hotel.
Many of the other buildings must have been nice in the past, but they are abandoned now. I can’t decide if it’s a factor of the economy or something else. I definitely got a feeling of not being safe when I walked around – maybe it had to do with the double-gated buildings in the area. A man approached us at some point, giving us a sob story about how he and his elderly father are tourists who just got here and were immediately mugged and beaten, and then asked us for money for “cab fare.” Living in San Francisco, I would hear stories like that every day on the trains and buses, so I was pretty sure we were being conned. We didn’t give the guy money, but in case he was telling the truth, I hid the camera. Fortunately, I had left my wedding ring and engagement ring in the hotel. I suddenly felt way too unsafe to wander around the city. I’m not overly paranoid, but when your gut tells you something, you have to listen. Mine said to go back to the hotel.
The outing wasn’t completely wasted, though. I saw something that I can’t identify, but it was poking out over a wall.
I’m hoping that I at least make it to the beach tomorrow. I’d really like to get more pictures of the city, but we’d have to rent a car, and it’s just not in the plans for this trip. Maybe next time.
Of course, the whole time I’ve been traveling I’ve kept up with the cleanse diet. I admit, it’s been rough. I have to explain to the servers exactly how strict the diet is, and they are generally very nice and helpful about the whole thing. I am sure to be extra nice to them in the process. The thing is, I hate the food. I’ve tried fish on five separate occasions, and never really liked it. I don’t like the plain, steamed veggies. I am so ready to be able to eat things I like again! I nearly went off the rails today and stopped for sushi. Usually, that’s a pretty healthy option, except right now I am not supposed to eat rice. Michael and I went down to the hotel restaurant and looked at the menu – they did offer food that was explicitly on my diet. The sushi was just so tempting, though. It was from this experience I learned something amazing about myself – I have the discipline of a Buddhist monk. In spite of being really hungry, in spite of wishing I could just have rice, in spite of knowing that I would enjoy the sushi more than what I could eat at the hotel restaurant, I actually chose to eat the stuff that was explicitly allowed on my diet. I’ve learned to hate the supplement shake and all the food I can eat, and I still stuck with it. Eight more days. I think the only reason I can stick with it is because there is an end in sight.
One other interesting thing I learned about eating in general came from being on this horrific diet. Michael and I were fine, untempted to eat things forbidden to us, so long as we were at home. When we went out in public, things changed. We would pass a McDonald’s sign advertising sweet tea, or a barbecue restaurant suggesting ribs, and it just got really hard. If no one is shoving the bad choices in my face, I don’t think about them. With the prevalence of food advertisements of the billboards and such, it just gets so hard to make a good decision. Why doesn’t anyone advertise fruits and veggies? Why don’t they advertise nuts and simply cooked fish and chicken? Make those things look good, and we might have a thinner society. I’m just saying.