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My Long Affair with Puerto Rico

August 20, 2011 by Joan Nova in Travel Retrospectives | 18 Comments

Puerto Rico, La Isla del Encanto (the island of enchantment), has had me under its spell my entire adult life. Although, like life, the trajectory of ‘our’ relationship has peaked and ebbed and taken a variety of turns over the years.

I thought I’d leave you with the story – in words and photos – as I board a plane for San Juan. Once again.

It started when I was 18 years old and I was invited by a friend and her parents to accompany them on a family holiday. They were going to PR to stay with a cousin who had just been transferred from San Francisco to manage a rice mill. It was my first trip outside the U.S.

We stayed in a town called Villa Caparra, not far from the San Juan metropolis. That was during PR’s heyday…casinos were elegant with dress codes and ‘evening only’ hours of operation; there were Vegas style shows with established headliners; after-hour clubs; and music everywhere. I loved the nightlife. Some might say ‘a little too much’. :)  I loved the weather (I was a New Yorker then…tropics were a treat). I discovered the food; I had a new-found appreciation for the language; and, I was totally in love with the music. To this day, if you turn on the ignition in my car, you’ll be greeted by s-a-l-s-a!

Over the ensuing years, I made more trips to PR than I can recall. There was a period when I lived in NY that I was going down every 3 months. Another time when I was between jobs, I tried living there. I stayed in a guest house in the Condado and took a part-time job transcribing for a doctor in Miramar. That was short-lived. I was young. I had no money, yet I didn’t want to get up early and go to work while my friends slept in from the night before. About 6 weeks later, my mother bailed me out with a ticket home.

As time passed, relationships changed and my wanderlust to see other parts of the world  grew so my trips were less frequent. When I moved to Florida, I didn’t go to PR for a number of years. I was am living in a tropical paradise — with no shortage of Latin culture.

Instead, my short-flight-trips those days were back to NY to visit with my friends. Then serendipity stepped in. A few of my NY friends moved or made second homes in PR and we began an annual ‘friends reunion’ in Puerto Rico.

A half-dozen of us (oft times more) spend about a week together…creating new memories and sharing good times. Although there’s no after hour clubs in this scenario, we do stay up till the wee hours playing canasta — and that’s after a full-day exploring the island followed by a house party or an evening out at one of the hotels. Like any gathering of old friends, we’re building on the base of our long-standing friendships by sharing and experiencing this new stage of life together.

Which brings me to the purpose of this trip. After our annual reunion in February, one of the group was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I don’t know if we’ll all be together next February. I didn’t want to take that chance.

Puerto Rico has changed over the decades. It, too, peaked and ebbed. The economy and crime have taken its toll though tourists still flock to see colonial Old San Juan and the other sights. A few ‘hot’ hotels remain but the headliners are gone. And, like all gambling meccas, casinos are open all day and rules of dress have relaxed. The country, the beaches, the cuchifrito joints, however, remain untouched to remind you “estás en Puerto Rico”.

As I get ready to board the plane, I wonder if, after all these years, this might be my last trip. This is not just another blip in the road in my affair with with PR, it’s a major roadblock. I hope we can survive the blow.

I ATE Puerto Rico • Guavate (La Ruta de Los Lechones)
I ATE Puerto Rico • Pinoñes
I ATE Puerto Rico • Fajardo/San Juan
I ATE Puerto Rico • Dinner Party at Home

Photos: (1) Mercado Urbano at Condado Plaza; (2) La Concha Hotel; (3 + 4) El San Juan Hotel; (5) Playa Escambron looking towards El Morro; (6) food sampling; (7) 2011 friends’ reunion; (8) Old San Juan; (9) Ocean Park; (10) Las Croabas.

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. Considering your heart is in PR, I doubt that you will never return. So long as you have wonderful menories, you can always be there.

  2. I had to smile at your mother bailing you out when you were young. My father could always be counted on for the same for me. We’ve been to PR only once, on a big cruise ship and visited a casino to see what it was like.

    I hope your trip works out well. You and your friend will be in my thoughts and prayers. It’s best to go now so you’ll have no regrets later. They say they can’t take away the memories and that is so, so true.
    My Carolina Kitchen recently posted..Summer Corn and Tomato Salad –A Simple Summer Side DishMy Profile

  3. Arlene says:

    I, too, love PR, though it’s been almost 20 years since I last set foot on this beautiful island. Thanks for the great photos, which inspired some lovely memories.

  4. bellini says:

    I have never been to Puerto Rico so I will live vicariously through you and Norma. We have to enjoy this great big beautifil world to its fullest. Enjoy each day as if it were your last!

  5. Lori Lynn says:

    We honeymooned there. It was magical.
    Prayers for your dear friend Joan.

  6. Living in Nashville, I am a bit jealous of what you get to be exposed to in Florida and in your travels. Our city is very closed as there is no water for miles and our food culture is still limited to pulled pork. I would love Puerto Rico and all the zing that goes with it.

  7. norma says:

    Well my friend, I am waiting for tomorrow to pick you up and to enjoy our friend’s company…play canaston, go on our foodie trecks. Get ready because once you land, we are going to lunch. Buen viaje y te veo pronto.
    norma recently posted..Wordless Wednesdays -Puerto Rico, My Lovely Island – Part 1My Profile

  8. Dorothy says:

    This is a bitter sweet trip for you and I hope “Irene” won’t get in the way and will be a leave early guest.

  9. giz says:

    Such a special story, albeit bittersweet. The circle of life has a way of delivering its blows but through it all this friendship and eternal memories will live on.

  10. I just read about Irene this morning and hope all is well and that you and your friends are safe.
    My Carolina Kitchen recently posted..Summer Corn and Tomato Salad –A Simple Summer Side DishMy Profile

  11. I was just talking about Puerto Rico with a friend yesterday; hope you enjoy this “last trip” and your friend survives this grim prognosis.
    tasteofbeirut recently posted..Poblano lasagneMy Profile

  12. Joan says:

    Thank you all for kind comments. If the situation wasn’t grim enough, Hurricane Irene swiped Puerto Rico last night. The airport is closed and 800,000 homes are w/o electricity (including the one I’m going to). I’ve rescheduled for late Tuesday night and hope there will be calm and restoration of services, electricity and life.

  13. Thanks for sharing wonderful pictures and the story! I hope everything is fixed up with the hurricane and you’ll be able to visit there.

  14. Sippitysup says:

    I spent most of my youthful summers in St. Martin. So a stop in PR was usually in the cards, mostly for one night or even less. But as an adult I have been back and am so glad I got to know the island better. GREG

  15. Penny says:

    Hope all goes well on getting to Puerto Rico. The Hurricane is heading our way. Enjoy this special time with your friends.
    Penny recently posted..Stuffed Eight Ball Zucchini SquashMy Profile

  16. Joan says:

    Update: I’ve had to reschedule again due to conditions in PR. I will attempt to go 9/16.

    As posted on twitter:

    “You know what’s worse than packing? Unpacking from a trip you didn’t get to take!”

  17. Marie says:

    Sorry to hear about your dear friend Joan, enjoy every second together,( unfortunately in Sept now) sounds like you have memories to last a life time!

  18. Adriana says:

    I am looking forward to meeting you when you fly down later in September. What a great account of your history with the island. Like you, I lament some of the changes it has gone through in the last few decades, but still cherish it for what it is, home!
    Adriana recently posted..French Weekends with Dorie – Café Salle Pleyel HamburgerMy Profile

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