Friday: going to meet a group of folks at Kmart to take a van out to Arecibo. After waiting 30 minutes in the sun past the time of pickup, the host, who was supposed to pick me up and bring me to Kmart and did not, suggests to take an Uber to meet the group. Good start to the day. The Uber driver is a coffee farmer. Of course, I’m the last one to meet the group and I suspect everyone was upset that I was late and made them wait. I didn’t correct anyone’s assumptions about why I’m late. Got into the van quickly and discovered my seat had no seatbelt, so I moved into the front of the van next to the driver. The driver and host, Freddy, was incredibly friendly and all smiles and so I asked 99 questions about Puerto Rico. The first stop on the trek was Cueva Ventana. We hiked some, got helmets, hiked some more, and went through a small cave with tree roots growing through it. Hiked some more and picked up flashlights as the second cave had no openings except for the window (ventana) at the end. And that was just amazing. There were groups of bats and even a snake on the ceiling that apparently ate those bats! None of us knew how it got there.
Afterwards, we piled back into the van and drove about 10 mins to the tiniest village imaginable (Charco Hondo) on the Tanama river. The roads were one car wide, no sidewalks; one room concrete houses all piled on top another and sort of on the side of a hill. We drove all the way to the back and there was a bunch of broken electrical machinery. We got out and walked a ways to a beautiful waterfall (cascada la planta electrica) We continued walking in the river then and arrived at a much larger waterfall. All of this was an hydroelectric station at some point, since abandoned. The water was very cold. Freddy showed me an opening where you could get behind the water and into a little cave. The water coming down took my shades as I was passing through (losing shades in water is actually something that happens every year, so I have a spare). After a few minutes in the cave, I jumped off a rock into the water and swam back to the group. Later on in the day, a woman said she had gotten a shot of me on the rock and would send it. Said she was from Minneapolis. The picture never came. Can’t trust them Minnesotans. 😉
Pro Tip: an important piece of information gleaned from Freddy so far is about a pretty tree with red flowers. This is the African tulip tree. The important part is that when you’re a kid, you call it the “pee pee tree”. Why? Well, apparently these flowers collect water that smells a little foul, and so you grab a flower and squeeze that water on your friends to make them seem to have wet themselves. Genius.
Finally, Spicy Food
Freddy wanted us to experience authentic “chinchorreo” culture. What is that, you ask? Well, it’s basically a dream come true: get a cheap drink, a quick appetizer, and move on down the road to the next place to do the same thing. So we drove up to the coast to a place called Arrecife 681 and it is really right on the coast. It’s a tiny shack, open air, wind and waves, drinks, fried food; amazing. I ordered some tostones (fried plantain), which I hadn’t had in years and was really craving. Additionally, Freddy had a pro tip: if you want hot sauce, you have to ask for it. Which I did, and it was incredible to savor the spicy fried goodness while listening to the waves roll in, and having some rum warm the insides. 😀 Incidentally, very near here there’s a colossal 110 m statue of Christopher Columbus seemingly in the middle of nothing. The story of its creation is also peculiar and I suggest you check it out. I don’t think anyone even likes Chris anyway.
Fast Facts: it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty. It’s the 4th tallest statue in the world. The 2nd, 3rd, and 5th tallest are of Buddha.
After filling our stomachs and getting a little tipsy, we drove back to Kmart and parted ways, never to see them folks again. I was short on water and wine and down to my last $10 and already at Kmart so being practical: it was shopping time. They had said they accepted Apple Pay so I went to the second floor to buy the essential liquids. Turns out they don’t accept Apple Pay. As I had only the one bill, I could only afford the water. The lady was over-the-top friendly and actually offered to buy the wine for me. No way – that’s just too nice. The Uber driver home was Dominican. She smiled and said something like ‘you smell like a man’ when I got into her car. I couldn’t quite understand the words because my Spanish is crap, but I can understand that I was trekking through the woods all morning in my gym shorts and probably do smell like a man.
The sun was high so it was beach time. Sand grains got into everything from the wind. There were lots of kite-surfers out probably not minding that so much. I miss tacos. I miss San Antonio. I miss spicy food. Found a tex-mex place on Loiza called Acapulco. They have a huge board on the wall proclaiming boldly that their food is unique and born of the streets of Mexico and not Tex-Mex in any way at all. It was Tex-Mex. It was actually just like walking into a place on 6th street in Austin. There were far more servers (10) than patrons (2). My server was a chipper thin young man with facial hair (just like Austin). In fact, everyone there was basically a latino version of someone in Austin. Ordered enchilada with veggies (cheese addict), chips with beans and guac and pico, house marg. Used the pro tip from earlier: ask for the hot sauce. LO! Server gave up the special HOT sauce from behind the counter WOOT! Like magic. It was all very flavorful and fresh and delicious and reminded me so much of home. I ate half there and took the rest home to enjoy with my wine from Walgreens. This is my last full day here. Was feeling a little lonely, but I don’t want to go home. This feels like home. I have a list already of all the things to go back for: one week is not enough time.
The Last Day
Pinky’s is a breakfast place on Loiza. There’s about 3 tables. There don’t seem to be breakfast tacos in San Juan so I ordered a Passion Fruit juice and sipped it passionately whilst walking to the beach. Sat in the sand again and stared out into the blue horizon – it could be the last time I see you, ocean. Passed a man on a random corner of the street – he’s wearing drab clothing and sitting on a crate; one of those people you usually gloss over. But, he’s got another crate full of aguacate. Only 3 bucks for one of them monsters. What a deal! Can’t wait to eat it. The Uber driver to the airport is super talkative. Think he said he was from Argentina. I guess they talk a lot in Argentina. 😀
The airport has an interesting feature right when you walk in: before you even get to security, there’s sort of a pre-security area specifically for the USDA to screen your bags for contraband agricultural products. They seemed fine with the one aguacate – what did they think they are going to find in people’s bags, cattle? What if there were two aguacates? How many aguacates does it take to not get the neat magenta USDA sticker slapped on my bag? Had some hours to kill and found an entire terminal of the airport abandoned and just wandered around. It was creepy: no people, lights buzzing and flickering, random sounds in the walls, spots where TVs used to be, spots where floor tiles used to be. The Miami airport was the opposite: bustling to the brim, beautiful baked-goods smells, a shiny clean tram, basketball on TV, travelers huddled around the charging stations. And after that: San Antonio.
Go back and check out Thursday!