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.
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.