Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Puerto Rico: Part I

I am nearly certain we spent a month in Puerto Rico.  According to the calendar, we were only gone for nine days, three of which were entirely consumed by travel and arrangements.  However, when I think back on everything we did, it just doesn’t make sense that we fit it all into one trip.

And so, I know I need to quickly write down the details before they all conjoin into one big mush of memories.  I’ve already given my family a heads up that I expect them to do the same so I can combine all our stories into a family book.  Since I know I am prone to a bit of self-indulgent verbosity, I’m going to break this into two posts.  Here’s PART I of my Puerto Rican memoirs.

Prelude – Saturday: Rental Cars, Hotels, Grocery Shopping, Tropical Storm Bertha
Day 1 – Sunday: Church and Old San Juan
Day 2 – Monday: Waterfall #1 and Zip Line
Day 3 – Tuesday: Beach, Volleyball and Local Cuisine
Day 4 – Wednesday: Tennis, Beach, Volleyball, and Football
Day 5 – Thursday: Waterfall #2, La Cueva del Viento, Observatory, Tunnels, Bioluminescent Bay
Day 6 – Friday: Family Picture, Volleyball, Waterfall #3

The strangest thing I saw in Puerto Rico was a stretch of PR-Highway 52 where for several kilometers, all the road signs faced the wrong way.

While Puerto Rico offered a variety of gorgeous scenery, the prettiest thing I saw was the way the trees often formed canopies above the roads we traveled.  This was especially true on our drive toward the area of San Sebastian toward La Cascada del Guama.  We got to kayak under similar canopies of trees on our way to the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo.

The worst moment of the trip for me was when I thought I had broken a couple of toes and was worried it would stop me from experiencing the 25’ natural waterslide at El Charco Frio.  Determined not to let the toes stop me, I shoved my foot into my tennis shoe and hiked the requisite mile to La Cueva del Viento.  Although they remained purple and swollen the following day, I made it with surprisingly small amounts of pain to the cool runoff water from the El Yunque Rainforest.  These cool waters (plus the adrenaline provided by the many recreational opportunities) proved to be just what the doctor ordered, and I am claiming to have been healed.

I had expected the native Puerto Ricans to speak Spanish primarily and to probably also be well-versed in English.  It was frequently helpful to have Jack along to translate.  Most surprising to me, however, was how much I would miss being able to read things in English.  At first it was fun to try to put my limited Spanish to the test to translate billboards and shop signs, but I quickly grew weary.  Even the grocery stores, which often featured bilingual signs, made my head swim as I tried to quickly separate what I could read from what I couldn’t.  I didn’t expect to feel so out of sorts when my ability to quickly read and understand written language was taken away.

I got the biggest thrill from jumping from the top of a 25’ cliff into the third of three pools at Charco Frio.  Even though I have jumped from higher before (for example, the 10 meter platform at Lava Hot Springs), I haven’t jumped in a long time.  There is something absolutely terrifying about choosing to step off sure footing to fall through the air and hopefully land with grace into the deep pool below.  I’m glad I got to experience that terror!  The second biggest thrill came from the last and longest of the eight zip line canopies we rode.  Employing Jack’s “Spider Man” method (which he finally got Michelle and I to comprehend when he told us to think of the upside down kiss), I observed the canyon below me as I tipped my head completely upside down.  I counted slowly to 63 as I soared across the 2,000 foot plus line, silently hoping my speed would be enough to carry me all the way to the other side.  Yep.  Also awesome.

Perhaps my biggest challenge in Puerto Rico was one I chose for myself: I wanted to eat something I had never eaten before.  That came in the form of both “yuca,” a potato-like plant, and “plantains,” somewhat akin to a banana.  The plantains I ate smashed and formed into what looked somewhat like cornbread.  Before I ate barbeque chicken, I seemed to actually like it.  I ate half the serving, intending to come back to it later.  After eating my chicken, however, and attempting to return to the plantain, I discovered perhaps I had just been really hungry.  It actually tasted kind of gross.  The yuca, on the other hand, was gross from the first bite.  Oh well, I tried.

The funniest moments in Puerto Rico were often associated with the many inside jokes we amassed during the week.  The first of many oft-repeated references was to our first meal in Puerto Rico.  Stopping for breakfast at Burger King, many of us struggled to read the Spanish menu displayed on television screens.  The menu showed a rotation of about 4 different pages, and just as we would come close to figuring out what each page said, the screen would display something new.  Jack and Mom had ordered, followed by my order.  Michelle allowed Lisa and Brett to go ahead of her so she could have a few more minutes to decide.  After taking their order, the woman behind the counter turned her back to Michelle and ignored her for several minutes.  When Jack finally spoke to her in Spanish, indicating that his sister would really like to be able to order, she replied, “Well, she should have ordered with the rest of you,” as she reluctantly agreed to serve Michelle.  Unaware of the woman’s reply, Michelle later remarked, “I don’t think that lady likes me.”  Jack laughed.  “She doesn’t.”

One of the silliest things we did in Puerto Rico was to come up with English pronunciations of the Spanish locations.  Jack, recently returned from his Spanish speaking LDS mission in Bolivia, seemed to like this only slightly more than he liked our butchering of the native tongue.  That is to say, he really didn’t like it at all.  A few of my favorites include the city where we stayed, “Human Cow” (Humacao), the national rainforest, the “Yucky Forest” (El Yunque), and a restaurant we used as a rendezvous location, “The Racist Restaurant” (Restaurante Raices).

And by far, the best part of the trip was being there will my family, which is why Part II will include my favorite specific memory of each person with whom I spent the last six days of epic adventure!