Puerto Rico 2019 — You Can’t Go Home Again

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I’m still on vacation from the Post Office as I type this. We spent the first half of my time off visiting Puerto Rico for a few days.

While we were on the island, we celebrated my lovely wife Sharon’s birthday (a gentleman doesn’t reveal a lady’s age, but I’ll give you a hint: it is a nice round number). A decade ago, we celebrated Sharon’s birthday in Hawaii, so these past ten years are bookended by a couple of islands on opposite oceans.

A while back, we decided that we both wanted to visit everywhere the other has traveled during our lifetimes. We think we have nearly accomplished that goal. I lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a few years in the late ’60s, early ’70s, when my dad was stationed there in the US Navy, but this was Sharon’s first time on the island. Similarly, Sharon went to Cancun when she was married to someone else, so we’ve added that destination to our bucket list as well. We may go for my birthday in October.

We had a good time in San Juan, where we stayed in an ocean-front suite at the Condado Vanderbilt.

This resort hotel included several five-star restaurants and a host of amenities like our own personal daily butler. We ate a lot of good food at the restaurants, but also managed to run up a huge room service tab as well. We live like rock stars when we’re on vacation. We discovered incredible jalapeno margaritas at a restaurant called Tacos & Tequila which was affiliated somehow with Patron tequila. A restaurant named Ola offered a lavish breakfast buffet (a brunch buffet on Sunday with bottomless mango mimosas). And, we managed to pump more money into the local economy at a tiny liquor store located across the busy street from the hotel, just to keep us away from the tiny $30 bottle of Grey Goose on the minibar. I visited the liquor store three times in four days. Like I said, rock stars. But the seal on the top-shelf vodka remains uncracked.

Don’t think our trip was only about the food and alcohol, though. We both also managed to get some sun while we were on the island. The temperature lows were in the 70s; highs in the 80s. A little rain, but only briefly, not like the biblical deluge back home all winter. The sunrises and sunsets were all spectacular, and the high fluffy clouds were perfect for picking out shapes before the winds tore them apart (Sharon pointed out a lot of clouds shaped like penises: I’m not here to psychoanalyze my dirty-minded wife).

We didn’t take many photos, but we did pick up a couple of additional refrigerator magnets.

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We also treated ourselves to a private tour of San Juan. Our guide was the incredible James, who expertly navigated the narrow streets of Old San Juan in our air-conditioned minivan. Brick streets that were never intended for automobiles. I recognized the old fortifications and El Morro, the 16th century Spanish citadel, from when I visited there as a child.

James also treated us to a local dessert snack called a Limber. It is similar to an Italian ice, a dense frozen treat, but made with tropical juice. The Limber got its name from Charles A. Lindbergh, who flew alone to Puerto Rico in February 1928 and according to local lore enjoyed the frozen tropical treat. I had a delicious coconut Limber; Sharon had strawberry.

The Navy base in San Juan has been closed for around fifteen years. We visited the old site anyway. It was completely unfamiliar to me, now the home of a massive modernistic convention center. I wanted to show Sharon where I got my first concussion after falling from a second-story walkway at one of the places we lived (my parents would never be accused of being “helicopter parents”), but those old places are all gone, including the ballfields where my mother used to play softball. She busted her nose once when a ball took a bad hop. It’s funny the things you remember, isn’t it?

Thomas Wolfe got it right about not being able to go home again.

We also drove through the Fernández Juncos area of San Juan, because I remember living there as well. Everything looked familiar and nothing looked the same, if that makes any sense. Well, it was five decades ago.

The city still hasn’t fully recovered from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the area in September 2017, and the scars that the storm left are still visible everywhere. But, of course the tourist areas are visit-ready now. The island needs the infusion of cash that visitors bring. The Puerto Rican government is bankrupt and a lot of infrastructure things are falling by the wayside. Our tour guide James said that on the weekend, buses that used to run every fifteen minutes run every couple of hours. The museums of Old San Juan, which rely on volunteers to operate, are closed because the people need paying jobs to live on the expensive island. Also because there’s no available parking, and even the wealthy don’t want to pay to volunteer.

I feel like Sharon and I did our part to bolster the economy. And had a good time doing it.

A couple of other things before I sign off. First, our hotel also had a cigar lounge. I wanted to visit it, but I resisted. That’s a slippery slope for me. It’s a short hop from enjoying a fine cigar with a good Scotch to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day again. Sharon and I got that particular monkey off our backs maybe seven years ago now, and I have no intentions of going back.

Second, Christopher Columbus called the entire island San Juan after John the Baptist, and the area now known as Old San Juan was named Puerto Rico, which means “rich port” in Spanish. At some point later, the names were switched.

Viva Puerto Rico!

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