Thursday August 2nd was our second and last full day on the island, and our goal was to spend the day in Arroyo, the same Arroyo that I talk about just about every time I mention the island on this blog. :)
|My photo this time!|
|Lu was not interested in the food on my plate. She was interested in me. I waited to see how long it would take her to actually do something to get me to pet her.|
|She didn't. She waited patiently and simply slowly inched her pretty pointy face closer to mine and by then I just couldn't stand it anymore...|
|She got her pets. And kisses. Ugh I fell in love with her so hard. I had forgotten how much I could love a dog.|
We were to go heavy for our front squats, and it was 5 sets of 10 reps each, with a couple of warm-up sets to reach the weight we wanted to work at. I slapped weight on my barbell until I got to the point where the last 3 reps out of 10 felt challenging, and then we started the workout.
I still have the tendency from bodybuilding to go slow with reps when we're lifting for reps/sets and not time. It means I end up working a lot harder than I need to be working, but it also means that my form and technique stay on point. Those five sets were hard, but I grinned each time Esteban walked by and gave me a thumbs-up on my form.
Part B of the WOD included wall ball shots, which were interesting as we were aiming at a beam in the ceiling, not at a wall like we are used to back home. It took extra precision and I failed epically. I still had a blast though.
|You know it was a good workout when afterwards I look like I got sprayed down with a hose and don't even know what to do when the camera is pointed at me other than laugh. :)|
After the gym, we headed back to my mom's to shower, eat a snack, and grab our stuff for Arroyo. Mom and the aunts had pulled out some of the old family photos while we were at CrossFit. My family is both cool and unusual in that there really are no embarrassing childhood photos of my brother and me. We love looking through those pictures and remembering the good and the bad.
|Part of the pile of photos we were looking through.|
The snack was more coffee and another giant island mango, which you can catch a glimpse of in the upper left hand corner of this photo. Lol
|My first series of riding lessons: on a Paso Fino. Bareback. And yep, without a helmet. It is rare to see people riding Pasos with helmets on the island and in the 1990's, that's how riding them was taught.|
|The first time I went to Disney World. I got on this carousel and would. not. get. off. Mom was hot and tired and wanted to move on and she could not convince me to just stop.|
|Carlos is all too familiar with the girl obsessed with horses. ;) And I've done the "I don't wanna get off the carousel" bit as an adult as well...#nevergrowup lol|
|I loved this rocking horse. My maternal grandmother got it for me when we still lived in Texas. |
(Also note the original Care Bear. This was sometime in the early 1980s. And I already showed you the print in the back of this photo. :D)
|The same rocking horse from the photo above, alive and well at my mother's house in PR. :) He is close to 35 years old now.|
This process repeated itself at least 5 times before we finally made it out the door with all of our belongings.
The Jeep needed gas, so Carlos asked Mom and the aunts where the nearest gas station was. I will just copy-paste what I posted about this on Facebook at the time, because it's just so very Puerto Rico.
Aunt Mari: “You’ll pass 3 lights and then you’ll get to the corner where the *Oriental used to be.”
Blank looks from Carlos and me.
Aunt Mari: “Do you know where the Oriental was?”
Carlos & me: “No...”
“It’s next to the road that intersects with the one towards Las Cumbres.”
“Ok...what’s the name of the gas station?”
“I think the name of the cross street is Emiliano Pol,” Aunt Mari said.
(Fyi: streets here aren’t always labeled with their names/numbers, especially now post-storm, which is why it is completely normal for Puerto Ricans to not know street names.)
(Fyi: streets here aren’t always labeled with their names/numbers, especially now post-storm, which is why it is completely normal for Puerto Ricans to not know street names.)
Me: “But what’s the name of the gas station?”
Aunt Mari: “Hmmm...maybe a **Shell? It’s not a Puma.”
“And it’s off the main road?”
“Not really. After the 3 lights, you’ll see the spot where the Oriental used to be on your right, and there you’ll turn and the gas station is right behind it.”
3 lights and one U-turn later, we’re still not quite sure where the Oriental used to be, but we found the Shell gas station! 🤣
And this would be why it took me 10 years to be able to wrap my head around, “Drive north for 3 miles and take Exit B West towards I-270.”
*Oriental Bank is one of the largest bank chains in PR. Aunt Mari was referring to the branch that used to be in Guaynabo.
**At the time of this writing, Shell and Puma gas stations had the least expensive gas in Guaynabo at $0.81/liter. We bought 10 gallons of gas for the Jeep. How much did we pay? I'll let you guys do the math. ;)
Still laughing over this whole mini adventure, we pulled out of the gas station and headed onto the highway, this time southeast bound towards Arroyo.
To get from Guaynabo to Arroyo, you get on the Expreso Luis A. Ferre (Freeway Luis A Ferre) and drive in a fairly straight line over the mountains to the southern side of the island. It's about an hour drive without traffic, covering 69 km or 43 miles. I again had a ball taking photos and videos for you guys while documenting more of the things that are ordinary when you live on the island.
|Driving towards the green northern side of La Cordillera.|
|Our green volcanic mountains.|
The island slowly erupted out of the sea some 190 million years ago, and while it was born from a volcanic island-arc terrane, its fire was extinguished thousands and thousands of years. So unlike Hawaii, PR does not have, nor will have, active volcanoes. Out at sea is another matter though: because PR is so close to active tectonic plates, there are underwater volcanoes. Fun fact: PR is right next to the Puerto Rico Trench, which is the deepest trench in the Atlantic Ocean and also happens to be one of the points of the infamous Bermuda Triangle where so many planes used to mysteriously disappear.
You can read more about the island's geography and tectonic history here. I personally think it's fascinating.
These are yet more facts that most Americans on the mainland don't know about unless they've bothered to do independent research, are familiar with the island, or personally know Puerto Ricans. Though not all Puerto Ricans seem to care as much as I do about educating Americans about the island, so there's also that.
I love these mountains more than any others. I needed to see them again and remember.
I called my mom so she could refresh the landmarks for me because I couldn't remember some of the basics, and a section of the route that had been under construction before I moved away was now officially open. Other than that, everything looked the same. It was like the storm and time had never passed.
|Do you see the dark brick mill in this photo? That's a vestige of the sugar cane industry, around which Guayama's economy revolved in the late 1800's-early 1900's. You can read more about the town's history here.|
|More traces of the sugar cane industry: this is the chimney of a mill.|
The section of road that didn't exist yet when I moved from PR 14 years ago.
|In Arroyo now. More ordinary. La Cordillera is on our left, and beyond the housing on the right is flat land that eventually ends at the beach.|
|The view on our right: those flatlands lead to the sea.|
The house looked the same. The front door was more weathered and the back door of the living room leading out onto the patio was being repaired. But the bones of the house were the same, as was most of the furniture and the art my uncle has on the walls.
|I drew this.|
|My aunt Lucy at the front door of the beach house, some 18 years ago. The kitchen looked the same.|
I went upstairs, to what used to be "my" bedroom when we stayed at the beach house. As the eldest, I got my own room. It is still a bedroom but it now doubles as another library for my uncle: he has decades' worth of National Geographic magazines and history books on more of the book shelves my grandfather built back in the day. The windows were boarded up still: the boards had not been removed after Maria and since we were now going into hurricane season again, they remained.
|My bedroom and its windows 18 years ago, the windows which are now boarded up.|
So now, after looking around the room, I finally defiantly turned around to look in the mirror this time and legit smirked.
Because for the first time in 21 years of visiting this house, I didn't look the way I thought I did...I looked better. And for the first time looking in that mirror, it wasn't just about the reflection looking back at me. It was about the fire in the eyes of the person I've become.
And the fact that I'm fucking proud of that.
|Selfies were not a thing the last time we visited. My cell phone at the time didn't even have a camera yet.|
You bet I took a selfie now. ;)
I returned downstairs.
"Let's go to the beach!" I said to Carlos. I was bursting with the same sense of urgent impatience and excitement at meeting with my beach that I always had when we arrived in Arroyo. I never could get settled in fast enough before I was walking down to the path that led to the shore, butterflies fluttering in my stomach as if I was about to re-encounter a long-lost lover. I have no other way of explaining it.
|The palm trees in the parking lot behind the house.|
|I took this video so you guys could hear them. It is the best sound.|
|The tennis court in the center lawn area of the villas.|
|There's a beach volleyball court there too.|
|The door that leads to the beach.|
I have a greatly enlarged photo of this open door that has hung in our bedroom since I left the island.
Not many things wait for you in life. Animals, people, things, they age, they die, they leave, they wither away and rot. But places...sometimes places wait for you for years, for decades, and despite the sun and the wind and the rain, they never change. They're just...there. Waiting.
Just like Abuelito's house, this beach had been my shelter, my refuge, whenever my world fell to pieces. It was the place that I went to when I needed to find myself again, when I needed to heal my soul, when I needed to forget the outside world, when I needed to just disconnect. It was a place where anything was possible, because when you are standing chest-deep in a living body of water that is moved by the wind and the gravitational force of the moon some 239,000 miles away, all of your human problems and worries seem very, very small and insignificant. And so it is easy to let them go. Just let the tide wash them away into nothingness. This was my world, my universe, and only very special people that meant a lot to me ever got to see it in person with me.
I walked alongside the shore for a bit, Carlos trailing behind because he knew this was between me and my beach.
|I felt both like I was walking in a dream and like I had never left. It was so surreal.|
We last visited the island 10 years ago, but it had been even longer since we'd been to Arroyo. I stood now for the first time in 13 years in that same chest-deep water, and felt the power of the rising tide around me, the tug and pull as each individual wave rose in a perfect wall of glassy water, inviting, "Welcome back. It's good to see you again! You should surf us!"
I've always treated the sea like a living being, like I would a horse or a dog or a cat. I don't think it is strange that I talk to it. My first memories of the island involve being surrounded by the ocean in Dorado, at only two years of age, looking down over the edge of my inflated swim ring into the crystal-clear water of an enormous tide pool, my toes carefully stepping on the ripples in the sand created by underwater currents.
"But I don't have my board," I said now. My Manta bodyboard was long gone.
"Your cousin Michelle has a board. She has surfed us."
And I remembered then, recent photos of Michelle on Facebook where she was bodyboarding on a blue board. I made a mental note to look for it once we were back at the house.
Another wave swept towards me, fast and joyous, almost seeming to laugh at my realization that I just might be able to surf after all as it rose taller than my head above the water. I grinned from ear to ear and, remembering my own self-training when it came to surfing, instead of leaping up towards the crest of the wave, I dove underneath it. Because that is what surfers do when swimming out past the breakers so they can catch the waves as they form: they duck underneath the waves as they make their way out, using their boards to pierce their way into the water under the crests of the breaking surf.
I turned around to face the shore, jumped up with the next wave and rode it all the way back to shore.
We walked along the shore more, heading towards the mountains, and just quietly living in the present, in the fact that we were now a part of this scenery, of this living painting.
|A river that ends at the sea.|
|So many coconut trees that you couldn't count them. I used to think they were the most cliche thing ever and now that I never see them, I love them so much.|
|The part of Arroyo that is wild and untamed.|
|Waves washing over a driftwood log.|
|Sea grapes! Yes you can eat them. These were not ripe though.|
|A sand dollar. July and August are sand dollar season in Arroyo.|
My mom had sent me photos of this beachside restaurant in Patillas a couple of months ago. My jaw had dropped so low with the pics that I actually posted them on Facebook because the VIEW from this place was STUNNING.
The restaurant is run from the downstairs of a family's house, just like a lot of local gems on the island (yes, this is a legit restaurant. It's an island thing, just like you'll find in so many small towns in the US.) You get to sit outside on their deck about 100 feet from the shore, with the waves crashing right there next to you.
The restaurant is called Lordemar (Facebook page and Tripadvisor page), and that's where we were headed.
The southeast side of the island is just as gorgeous as anywhere else. I took tons of media just for you guys.
|A flamboyan tree in full bloom on the left here.|
|More ordinary. Driving through Patillas. |
When I pan to the right you can see the ocean way off in the distance for an instance. These videos have no filter btw. The greens really are that bright.
|More ordinary. More Patillas. Still no filter.|
Green mountains. <3
|No filter guys. The road takes you right next to the ocean.|
|More ordinary. More ocean. No filter.|
|This beach is called Inches and is one of the big surf destinations of the southeast. Summer is the off season for surfing, hence no big breakers.|
|Arrived at Lordemar.|
|The sitting area of the restaurant.|
|Looking back towards the restaurant entrance. You can see our Jeep parked outside.|
People think that you can only find this green mountain + beach combo in Hawaii.
Wrong. You can find it in Puerto Rico. (And in so many of the Caribbean islands.)
|The wave were breaking right. there.|
|My grin says it all.|
|A photo of me taking the previous pic.|
|Our appetizer: sorullos de maiz, aka fried cornmeal sticks or Latin corn fritters, next to Carlos's empty pina colada. I hadn't had sorullos since I was a kid. They are made of cornmeal mixed with cheese and deep fried. (Here is a recipe in English using in case you want to try making them. They are super easy!) They are traditionally served with what we call "mayo-ketchup" on the island, which is just that: a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup. On the mainland it is known as "the magic sauce" by the African American community.|
|Are you sick of that view yet? We weren't! Have another photo. :D|
So it was with much reluctance that we packed up our stuff, showered, and headed back to the San Juan metro area to meet with Carlos's cousins, Esteban (Esteban is the Spanish version of "Steven" and it is a common name; this was obviously not the same Esteban from CrossFit PR) and his mom Enith.
|Getting on the highway north towards La Cordillera.|
|Some hurricane scarring in the trees on the right.|
|Traffic on the highway as we neared San Juan, this time because of closed lanes for construction. The emergency lane in PR is just another lane; just don't get caught by cops using it. ;) That truck wasn't stopped there: it was moving.|
We made it back into the San Juan metro area in about an hour despite the patches of 5:00 pm traffic that we encountered. Enith bailed due to a last-minute friend's emergency but Esteban came out to meet with us.
He suggested El SuperBar on Avenida Piñero. Here is their Yelp, Facebook and Twitter because if any of you go to the island, you should totally check it out.
Ave Piñero is a main street in the San Juan metro area that connects Guaynabo and Rio Piedras. It used to be full of businesses but has been on the down and out trend over the course of the last decade. Some areas used to be much dicier than others even in its good days but in general it was not a street that you wanted to be walking alone at night on.
So of course, seeing the current post-Maria shut-down state of so many more businesses on this street did not inspire confidence in me but the bar was full at 6:00 pm and we parked in the closest available parking spot we could find, which was less than a block away.
I had been leery of the location and was balking about the whole idea...until we walked in. Because that's when I understood why it was called "El SuperBar": EVERYTHING is superhero themed! I wanted to take photos so badly, but the place was packed considering how early it was (we figured out why; I'll explain shortly).
I used the restroom...which had a black light...and lots of Wonder Woman...and yes, it was impeccably clean, as noted by the glowing black light!
I had walked into the bar going, "I'm not so sure about this place," and I walked back out of the restroom with this enormous grin on my face to meet Carlos at the bar. "I LOVE THIS PLACE," I exclaimed.
"What the hell happened in the bathroom??" he asked, laughing. "Because you literally did a 180 in less than 5 minutes!"
"The black light happened!" And I explained.
|The place's cool factor went up even more (if that was even possible) when Carlos ordered a Blue Moon and was given the Mango Wheat option. WHAT??? Blue Moon with mango?? Sold!|
|We sat outside with our drinks.|
We were right next to the street.
Esteban is Carlos's godson and he just turned 20 this year. He had been a shoo-in for the Puerto Rican Baseball team in his teens as a pitcher until a shoulder injury terminated his athletic career. We had not seen him in 8 years...he's all grown up and is about to take a government job. He's A Good Kid.
Contrary to what is supposed to happen with alcohol, the conversation got more and more serious as the hours ticked by. (The legal drinking age in PR is 18, so yes: Esteban was drinking with us.) My biggest takeaway from this conversation that I want to share with you, that has haunted me since that moment, was the mental picture of this very young man with his entire life in front of him, sitting outside on a bar stool with his face in his hands and talking about despair, about dead-ends, about not knowing what to do with his life, about the changes in the island and the economy and the people and how much more dangerous everything is. How no one hangs out after dark, first because everyone got used to hiding at nightfall during the longest blackout in US history (and the 2nd longest in the world), but now because there are so many more homeless people, so many more drug addicts as desperate people try to escape reality with substance abuse, so much more anger and violence on the streets, that it is just stupid to stay out late for something as menial as drinks when you could get knifed for accidentally stepping on someone's shoe. My people have survived, yes. But just because electricity is back doesn't mean that they get to stop surviving. My people are exhausted by the sheer act of surviving and so many have just stopped caring about anything as a result.
I share this with you because my one source of rage over this visit was that prior to our return to the island, every time I relayed the information I was getting on PR's current status, I was continually told by a fellow islander that I was exaggerating. That my vision was "unilateral." That things are "not that bad." I had wanted to believe her so badly. So badly. But like everything in life, just because something doesn't affect you doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Are you fucking kidding me????
Well, now that I have seen it with my own eyes in person, that is bullshit my friends. Yes, there is now electricity throughout most of the island but it has most certainly not recovered and its economy continues to sink thanks to the lovely combination of both Puerto Rico's monumentally corrupt government and the current US administration. Everything that my family and close friends were telling me: it is all true. Getting power restored throughout the island 11 months after the hurricane is not the automatic equivalent of normalcy.
|You have to be current on the things happening in PR right now to understand this one, but it is a very, very accurate representation of the situation. And yes, that is a flying gargoyle.|
It is a very different story though for the majority of middle and lower class locals that are stuck on the island with no other choices. It is a troubled paradise. And listening to Esteban, I choked up with the helplessness of it all. Because we can't save it: the entire system is broken. It was broken before but it is beyond repair now, thanks to the storm and a country currently run by a racist administration. I am just so tired of it all and of our people, of US citizens, being allowed to silently rot with no hope while everyone on the mainland takes up every other cause imaginable to defend. Sometimes I feel like the only voice in this corner screaming for help in an abyss where no one can hear me.
I finally looked around. It was 8:30 pm and the bar was almost entirely cleared out. Carlos and Esteban noticed the same thing: it was late. Not late by hanging out standards, but late by island standards. Like I said before: you don't stay out after dark, not even now with all the electricity in the world, because dark things might still get you.
Esteban walked us to the Jeep and we drove him back to his car, where we said our good-byes.
Carlos and I then drove home to mom and the aunts, where we had dinner and hit the bed. I don't remember much from that evening anymore: I was too emotionally drained.
Last part to follow.