Forty-three years ago today, on February 27, 1974, my family arrived in the USA after a year-long process of immigration. We lived in Israel and Italy during while we waited for paperwork and visas and all the accompanying bits and pieces of immigration.
We landed at JFK airport sometime in the late afternoon, I believe. Here is what I remember. My mom was very pregnant with my sister, Golda, who was born just a little over a month later. Mom walked off the plane hand-carrying my 1/4 size violin (no case, no bow, just the wee bitty instrument). I played that violin until I got a 3/4 size one for a bit when I was eight and then my full size one (which I still play to this day) when I was nine. Everything was busy, busy and people scurried to and fro’ but I don’t recall being bothered by the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest airports in the world. I spoke only a few words of English so I observed and let it all flow over me. I took it in with a
Here is what I remember. My mom was very pregnant with my sister, Golda, who was born just a little over a month later. Mom walked off the plane hand-carrying my 1/4 size violin (no case, no bow, just the wee bitty instrument). I played that violin until I got a 3/4 size one for a bit when I was eight and then my full size one (which I still play to this day) when I was nine.
Everything was busy, busy and people scurried to and fro’ but I don’t recall being bothered by the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest airports in the world. I spoke only a few words of English so I observed and let it all flow over me. I took it in with a seven-year-old’s delight in the new.
The room at the Holiday Inn (where we stayed that first night) had a square shower stall (I don’t recall ever seeing a shower before much less a square one) and was bright and clean and had glass doors. I remember looking out the window and see color and light all around. We lived up high in Israel (as I recall, we had to climb down many stairs to get down to the bomb shelter), but because it was wartime, there wasn’t much light at night. And I believe our time in Italy was spent on a lower floor so I never saw that much light and motion at night until we came to New York City (the ultimate nighttime light and motion place). So, I come by my love affair with NY honestly. It started first thing.
The next day we flew to Detroit to begin our lives as new Americans.
Happy anniversary my mom and sisters. Our lives would be nothing like we have had in this great nation.
Day three started with a visit back to the car rental place. I have pretty severe allergies to cigarette smoke. They assured me when I rented that all their cars are smoke-free. Not so much. Since we didn’t drive the day before, I hadn’t noticed how bad it was. I was going to power through the runny eyes, stuffed head, and raw throat but my honey convinced me otherwise.
The folks at Dollar were great! They not only gave me another car, but when that one still smelled, they gave me a third. And it was a nicer car than the one we had had and they didn’t charge me any more. Sweet and wonderful people.
Before I go further, let me just say that everyone we met and talked to was fantastic. They were friendly and helpful and seemed to enjoy interacting with us. Plus, I got to practice my Spanish a bunch and that felt great. Even a token effort at speaking Spanish brought out the smiles, and I was thrilled that so many people were gracious and kept allowing me to communicate in their tongue when the more efficient thing for them would have been switch to English.
Once we got the car straightened out, we headed out into wild blue yonder, as it were.
Word to the wise: If you rent a car and plan to navigate via google maps on your phone, please note that the directions can be spotty. Google maps will be telling you that you need to turn left at this next intersection but when you get to it and are in the left lane, suddenly it changes its mind and tells you to turn right. I never did figure out why it did that.
Also, distances and measurements are in metric but speed limits are in miles. From what I understand it’s because the measurement system was in place before Puerto Rico became a US commonwealth (and also before cars had speed limits). Cars came in after the establishment of the commonwealth and therefore the speed limit markers follow the USA methods. Also, google maps will not show you exit numbers so you have to be super watchful in how you navigate. It’s doable but can get tricky.
Once we got out of the city (San Juan/Carolina), we quickly got into the mountains in the center part of the island. It’s a stunning land.
We found a terrific place to eat right at kilometer marker 0. It’s called Origens, and it’s all vegan cafeteria-style place. I’m not sure that part of Ponce is the safest because we had to ring a bell to have the door unlocked so we could enter. Once there, the people were gracious and provided us with a fantastic sampler platter of their items for the day. We had sweet plantains, salad, pasta, spinach patties with a fantastic red sauce, and a bean salad that took our breath away (among a few other dishes). I recommend the place highly for anyone and particularly if you have dietary restrictions. They were willing to work with us and gave us a treat of a meal.
One of the most amazing sites at KM marker 0 is this statue in honor of the abolition of slavery. I saw it and wept. Stunning and powerful.
After we left Ponce, we made our circuitous way down to Bahía Sucia (Dirty Bay). This was one of those times google maps led us astray and while I was able to get us back on track, let’s just say we got a more scenic route than we perhaps needed.
On the other hand, my iPhone knows what’s up because the instant we saw our first glimpse of the Caribbean, one of the songs from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack came on the radio. For those who don’t know, Puerto Rico straddles the Atlantic Ocean on its north side and the Caribbean Sea on its south side. You can see the different colors of the water, the different quality of the sunlight, and the vast difference in the height and intensity of the waves. It’s more tame but no less beautiful. Most of Puerto Rico’s shoreline is beach so you could get a different flavor of beach every single day if you wanted.
The reason we headed to Bahía Sucia was that it was recommended by the excellent José, one of the gents at our hotel. I adored him, and he was super sweet and gracious (and let me keep speaking Spanish with him even though he speaks English perfectly well. I’ve also picked up one of his mannerisms. Whenever I said, grácias [thank you], he replied, “Siempre,” [always]. What a fabulous response!). He recommended the Dirty Bay as a local hang-out and a place where we might see manatees. We arrived, and I found the salt flats and the silt in the water (and the minuscule amount of beach) left me reluctant to stay, so we left and made our way to Combate Beach.
Combate Beach is a bit more firmly on the west coast of the island. We arrived, walked the 300 feet to the water’s edge and set up camp. The water was a stunning turquoise, and we hung out there until sunset. The swimming was glorious. I had been dreaming of swimming in the Caribbean again ever since I had the opportunity to swim off the coast of Grand Cayman a few years ago, and Combate did not disappoint.
Mostly we had the entire beach to ourselves until about 45 minutes before sunset when a few of the locals showed up with chairs, beers, and good conversation (not to mention a very energetic beach dog).
I had wanted to toast the sunset with a piña colada and my honey obliged me.
For the next little while, we all watched the sunset. I had my trusty new Nikon and was able to zoom in and catch the sun’s dramatic exit for the day.
And here is the last and most dramatic bit of the sunset.
Shortly after that, the almost full moon made an appearance from the east.
After the moonrise, we made our way towards home. We drove through Rincón but only stopped at the local Subway to get a drive by dinner and then took the main roads back to San Juan. Exhausted and elated, we toasted each other with a couple of sips of Don Q’s coconut rum (It’s delicious. Tastes like coconut candy. Go get some right now if you like that sort of thing), and made our plan for our last day in paradise.
What a day!
We are staying at a hotel that isn’t on the beaten path so we had to get up extra early to walk to La Concha hotel to be picked up by the excellent Ramón, our guide. We, along with nine other people boarded a van, and we took off for El Yunque Rainforest.
Situated in the northeast part of the the main island, it is the only tropical rainforest administered by the US National Park Service. It’s a small but gorgeous forest. Hundreds of species of plants thrive here, but the wildlife species aren’t as numerous. Puerto Rico is an oceanic island (part of an archipelago) and so has never been attached to a continent. That means that many of the species you might find in another rainforest (monkeys, big cats, etc.,) never made it here. So, there are only a few species you might find. The Koki frog and the Puerto Rican parrot (or Iguaca) are two of the more famous species. We heard the Koki Frog (the sound is described in the name pretty well) but we never saw the parrot which is notoriously shy. The visitor’s center at the rainforest has a ton of information on the species of plants and animals that thrive there.
After we left the center, we headed to our first stop, the hike. We did a short hike (.7 miles in and .7 out) to a waterfalls. Word to the wise: it’s totally worth it, but make sure you have good knees and good treads on your shoes. The way isn’t too steep, but it is slippery. When they set up the trails, several stretches have rocks in the middle of the concrete. The concrete is fine. The rocks have worn away and are super slippery. I have also gotten to the age where going down paths is harder on my knees than heading up and those who have knee problems might want a cane or a staff to ease the way.
Word to the wise, wear a swimsuit. Your reward for making the hike is to get in the basin and swim in the perfect water. Ramón recommended we head under the water and get a massage. We did, and it was magnificent. I don’t have picture of that, but one of our new friends brought her camera wrapped in a ziplock and at least you can see us in the water.
After the waterfalls, we headed back to the van to go to the Yokahu observational tower. The Tower is pretty tall and provides an excellent view. On good visibility days, you can see Culebra island and on really good days you can get to as far as St. Thomas.
I didn’t make the climb up, but sticking around the bottom provided the view below, complete with rainbow. It was super fun for me since I had just said that I hoped we would get to see one since we had been getting rained on periodically the entire time in the forest. Word to the wise, it’s a rainforest, you’ll get rained on. If you don’t want to get wet, bring rain gear. You can buy a poncho in the visitor’s center, but bringing your own works just as well. Regardless, it was an “ask and you shall receive,” because wow, did we get a treat!
After this stop, we headed to one more waterfalls and then lunch!
We headed to Fajardo and had lunch at one of the many small restaurants along a strip of water. The water was behind us and the restaurant (#22, sorry I don’t have a name for you) was fantastic. So far, everyone has been more than happy to accommodate my dietary needs. This place was no exception. We ate mofongo, a traditional food made out of the green plantain. Unlike the ripe version, green plantains are not sweet so they make for wonderful, savory dish additions. A mofongo is made when they cook the plantain, mash it and then fry it. Everyone else got some sort of meat on theirs. Rich and I asked for vegetables, and they came up with an amazing treat. Tons of fresh veggies, including cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, beans, and corn in a garlic sauce that was just delicious.
A quick suggestion, take every opportunity to wander around if you are out and about in Puerto Rico. Behind the restaurant, I met a new friend (this egret was rummaging for scraps but provided a lovely photo or two).
And this is the view in what is essentially the alley behind the restaurants. I’m telling you, I haven’t seen a non-stunning part of this island yet.
After we left the restaurant, we headed to our last stop for the day, the kayaking trip to the bioluminescent algae bay. I can’t say this was disappointing because, hey, we got to kayak into a super cool bay under a moonlit sky. But with the exception of a tiny bit of sparkling, the luminescence was nowhere to be found. It was still cool, though. We got in two-person kayaks and paddled our way through a mangrove forest and into the bay (one of three places you can see bioluminescence in Puerto Rico, this one is on the northeast side of the island). Word to the wise: have good bug spray. There weren’t any mosquitoes, but there were these little biting bugs called mimes (pronounced meemehs). They are tiny but when they bite you, you know it.
Please don’t get me wrong. The trip was gorgeous. However, we saw pretty much no bioluminescence. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the moon was up and almost full. And second the algae are going through a growing process and will be coming back at some point. Word to the wise: if you are going to go, go at a time when the moon isn’t up. You’ll see more stars, and you’ll see more algae. I know that for next time because there will definitely be a next time. 🙂
All in all, a perfect day. Today brings a trip to the south coast of the island. We are headed down to Cabo Roja and then around to Rincón to perhaps see a sunset.
Puerto Rico 2017
Day 1 Travelogue.
So many wonders! I’ll start at the beginning.
The trip down here was fantastic. Southwest has direct non-stop flights from BWI. It is the only way to go. Super easy. The trip is a bit less than four hours and it flew by (no pun intended).
The heat and softly humid air felt more like a caress than a punch on the nose (when we stepped out of the airport terminal), and I have been loving every second of it. The palms are everywhere (especially numerous near the airport). And everything so far has been a delight.
I have been getting a chance to speak a good bit of Spanish. Everyone here has been so kind in looking past my mistakes. To a one, they have asked me where I learned my Spanish. When I answer that I learned in school, I get raised eyebrows and a, “You learned very well,” or a “You speak very well.” I’m rusty and they are gracious.
A few words to the wise. Unless you plan on riding buses or taking taxis, rent a car (and if you happen to )rent with Dollar, don’t bother going to the big Rental Center across the street from airport terminal. Instead, grab one of the ubiquitous shuttles. Yes, it is on the expensive side (the prices you get on Travelocity are “estimates” it turns out). But, the freedom of going where you want to go all over the island is a delight. We’ve been super lucky with parking as well. They say traffic here can be horrible (in downtown San Juan), but so far it hasn’t held a candle to DC traffic so it’s downright relaxing. 🙂
Two other quick notes: The money is in dollars, and the electrical outlets are the same as in the mainland USA.
As soon as we got to the hotel (The Wave on Condado), we met the fab José. He has been super helpful (as has everyone), and has answered all of my pedantic questions. And I’m going to adopt something he says for my own. Whenever I say, “grácias,” for yet another thing has done or question he has answered, he replies, “siempre,” or “always.” What a delightful way to do that interaction. He doesn’t say, “de nada,” (it’s nothing). He says, “Always.” I love that!
The Wave Hotel is a lovely little place in the middle of the downtown area. It’s still super close the ocean (on the North side of the island, you’re on the ocean and on the South, you’re on the Caribbean). It’s about half a kilometer to get to the water you see in the accompanying image.The top floor has a limited view of the ocean and a few hot tubs for lounging. Rich and I brought wine and rum up there tonight and watched the clouds float by while the moon provided the mood lighting. I can recommend this place as an inexpensive alternative if your budget requires that sort of thriftiness. It’s not just inexpensive. The room is quaint and lovely (on the smallish side), the soundproofing is great, and the staff is just fabulous!
After we checked in, we found our way to the Suka Cafe. It’s run by a bunch of Buddhist nouveau hippies. The food took forever and a day but was delicious. The space reminded us both of the New Deal Cafe back in Greenbelt. The wall art was done by someone named GUS who would be perfectly at home featured in the AVAM (American Visionary Art Museum), and there is a big basket with rolled up yoga mats for yoga classes that take place there (presumably not when people are eating their lunches there. ;). )
Afterward, we headed to the ocean. We missed the sunset (not that you can see it much from the north part of the island), but we still watched the waves and even chased the waves a little.
After the ocean, we headed for more food and then spent the evening wandering Old Town San Juan. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Reykjavik for some reason. The architecture, the combination of styles, the winding, somewhat hilly streets, the incredibly friendly people – it all reminded me of Iceland a year ago. Of course, we were in shorts and t-shirts instead four layers of thermals, but the vibe is really similar. It has all been fab! I so needed this and am glad we came.
Tomorrow, we head to the rainforest and then kayaking in a bioluminescent algae bay. Supposedly, the algae are being shy and the visibility is terrible. We are still going because, who would turn down a moonlit kayak in a bay in Puerto Rico? Answer: No one.
I have set up a new lock screen on my phone. It asks me a question every time I turn the phone on. “Are you doing what you want to be doing?” And here’s the thing. I have to answer the question.
There are of course many answers to the question. First, I could be doing something I adore (writing, reading for someone, petting a cat, putting my toes in the ocean, making music, spending time with loved ones, traveling, etc.), so of course, I am doing what I want to be doing.
Next, I could be doing something I “have” to be doing or “need” to be doing. That might also be something fabulous (like washing my hair, which I need to do every day, or else, but which also gives me great pleasure).
I could also be doing something I dislike. This morning, I wasn’t the Earth Lady. I was the Poop Lady. Between Pyro’s health issues that result in poop wherever he happens to be standing when the need overtakes him, scooping the general litter box contents, and picking up after Hatha, I spent more than I truly wanted to on poop patrol.
And then of course, comes the more serious stuff I dislike like accounting, filing, business admin stuff. That stuff challenges me like crazy. I struggle with it, and I taking steps to improve on it with software, books, articles, and other guidance.
But, I still keep coming back to, am I doing what I want to be doing? I could have asked the question differently. I could have asked, “Do you want to be doing what you are doing?” Perhaps, that might have made what I am about to write easier for me to swallow. What I am talking about here is the first part more than the second part. Because, if I don’t want to be doing what I am doing, why the heck am I doing it? Because I have to? Partly. But also because some of the stuff that I have to do is because of habit. If I take all the stuff I have to do or need to do and transform it into stuff I want to do or get to do, how does it change? How does my life change?
What I’m talking about here is a modification of my perspective. Can I switch all the need to and have to into want to and get to?
When I am scooping poop, I am taking care of my critters. I am ensuring they have their needs met and that my house doesn’t become a sty. I can also incorporate my love for them into the action? How would that change it?
When I am doing accounting or sending out contracts, I am ensuring that I get to be compensated to keep doing work I love and work I feel is important (reading for people, teaching kids how to save the Earth, or helping people be more creative, or exposing them to cool music, etc.). So, don’t I owe to myself to take care of those other parts of that business so that I can keep doing what I want and love to be doing? Doesn’t that change things? (I have done it with exercise. In my late teens, I hated it. I didn’t want any part of it. In my 20s, I did it because I had to. In my 30s, it began to transform because certain forms of exercise were necessary to manage my hypothyroidism. Nowadays, I do it because I adore it. I work on the standing bag. I do Zumba. I dance. I practice yoga or Tai Chi, and I swim. I love using my body and have a great time with it. The best part? I always always feel better afterward. Working out has become like brushing my teeth. It is part of my daily activities, and it is one I enjoy, like crazy.)
So that brings me back to the question. Am I doing what I want to be doing? Or rather, do I want to be doing what I am doing? Implied in the question is, “And if not, why not?” And more to the point, can I change my perspective? And even further, can I do it right now so that the very act of doing something I don’t want to do transforms in front of my eyes into something fabulous.
Yes! I get so scoop poops. Yes! I get to do accounting. Yes! The two are equivalent in my mind because of my resistance to doing them (no offense to the accountants and bookkeepers I know; it’s not you, it’s me).
So, I release my resistance, I start getting to live my life from a place of acceptance rather than resistance. And that is a much better locale for me.