Travel: First Time Experience in Puerto Rico.
Have you been to Puerto Rico? Neither have I, before now, that is. I write this, sitting at a crystal dinning table, wooden chair. A fan above me, fan is not spinning. Couch behind me, to my left and flat screen TV behind me, to my right. The remote keeps enticing me, but no TV watching for me tonight. Instead, I’ll trade the television screen for my computer screen as I jot down first impressions before they fade away.
So, first things first, Puerto Rico is a short flight. The amount of time it takes me to go hiking sometimes when I’m back home, is the same as the flight time from lift off to touch down. Interesting, barely have a few sentences in and the word “home” crept up. Rather sly, almost unnoticed, one would think I was making a comparison for how close traveling here really is, but I know what’s going on, my conscious or sub conscious is pining for home. And, I can understand why.
Presently, I’m hot. Oh, I know. I am hot as in sexy, hot as in yeeaah baby. . but not that kind of hot, right now, I’m talking about temperature-ally hot. Yes, the fan behind me is spinning, but boy, this house is hot. I’m not used to being hot at night. Night is the most glorious time, night is time to sleep, night determines the kind of day you’d have tomorrow. And, you see, uhm, I’m not complaining, I’m not spoiled, but you see, my surrounding has to be cold for me to sleep. Cough, cough. I do not like sweating, because later I’d start itching, and I do not want to itch, neither do I want to sweat, neither do I want to be hot at night, wide awake. I want to sleep, cold conditions. I want, I want.
Too early to complain, I don’t believe I’m complaining (yet), I’m simply observing, well that I’m not home right now, I’m out of comfort right now. I’m literally on the verge of being uncomfortable right now, but I sure am grateful I’m not homeless nor stranded. Was this what I came all this way to seek? What exactly, did I come all this way to seek? Oh boy, let’s get back on track. We were talking about Puerto Rico.
I’m finding in PR, it is expected, and silently preferred that the Air Condition (for homes that have Air Condition) gets turned on only when you’re in the room. If you’re not physically inside your room, turn it off. How about the rest of the house?
Back in the 80s when your grandma would ask “are you trying to air condition the whole street”, that expression is taken quite literally here, so far.
The people here (so far, I’ve experienced mostly the ladies) are quite friendly, one could say they’re merely doing their jobs, just as I often find waitresses to be incredibly nice to me just around when I pay my bill when back home, (and there goes the fifth one, are you counting?). So far, I’ve met Paola — lovely lady, sweet girl. We were supposed to discuss how I’m healthy and how I have a bar code to prove it but you know, conversation swayed another way and before you know it she’s showing me different things on her phone while her coworkers gently glance over at us in curiosity.
(Puerto Rico would charge you $300 fine if you do not have vaccination record or have a negative test result at the time of arrival, they’d ask for an email confirmation of the test. You exit plane, go to baggage claim, then get in line. There are two lines, people with colored bar code and people with plain or no barcode, after which you exit the airport — if you can show a negative test within two days of arrival, the fine gets waived.)
Then I met Veronica, who went out of her way to remind me her name is English and not Spanish — because in Colombia the same name would be pronounced a different way (in Spanish). We had good conversation, she was supposed to hand me the car key like she did the others and I was supposed to drive off in less than two minutes tops like the other customers did. But there we were laughing our asses off, sharing stories and giving high fives. Then I left. The guys? oh, I don’t remember my interactions with them. Haha. Let’s move on.
I touch down San Juan 4.30p Sunday. I could have stayed in Old San Juan, which really was where I wanted to stay, but I wasn’t in the mood to pay $180 per night neither was I in the mood to pay $90 for a hostel. $1,100 for a week was just not my taste. With prices like that my days on the Island would be numbered and right now, I’m still basking in my ballsie-ness to book only a one way trip here, I don’t know when I’d be leaving, and I definitely cannot go on paying those prices per night. So I chose Rincon (paying $80+ a night), on the other side of the Island. Issue is — how do you get to Rincon from San Juan? that should be a question on a game show like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire or on Family Feud.
Question of the day: Just How Do You Go From San Juan To Rincon?
First answer, I was told to fly. Fly Cape Air to Mayaguez — which doesn’t spell the same, doesn’t sound the same as Rincon. Fly, I was told, from San Juan to Mayaguez, then take Taxi or Uber for 30+mins to Rincon.
Second answer, Get on a bus. Bus would take you to Mayaguez, then Uber 30+mins to Rincon. I called the Sultana bus station, my Spanish was understood, their response was tickling my ears, I could not understand what they meant. I was told to call back later. I called back later, the bus is full. The next time is 7p. Drive time is 2hrs 30mins which would be 9:30p. Plus 30+mins to Rincon would be 10p or later. Yeah, no. Not for my first time and first day, not knowing what is where.
Third answer, Paola said “well you could take Uber”, she then checks Uber and gives me her phone, surprise element, to see the price. A whooping $236 from San Juan to Rincon.
Fourth answer, Rent a car. That’s how I met Veronica and here we are.
Puerto Rico is expensive to visitors, that’s what I’ve come to understand and accept. The lady before me spent $1200 on car rental. The guy before her spent $300 on car rental. Not to talk of accomodation. On days like these, you understand the importance of Greyhound.
I enjoyed the 2hr 30mins drive. The car rental is right outside the Airport’s exit door, all you have to do is cross the drop off area and go into the Rental building.
Let’s get down to Car Renting business.
As you walk in, you’ll first see Alamo and National — apparently they are one and the same. If you already have a reservation, it takes 3mins to make one on their site and its cheaper like 4bucks cheaper than if you don’t have one. So either the person sitting behind Alamo or National can help you.
Here’s where it gets interesting. They prefer a Credit Card. I use Debit Card.
So, they prefer a credit card — they will accept a debit card only if you have a return ticket (I did not have a return ticket) and they’d want the flight number on your return ticket. If you do not have a return ticket, like in my case, Alamo and/or National would charge you a $300 deposit.
While I was alright paying all of those because really I just want to be on the interstate heading to Rincon before it gets too late, and before all the cars get rented out (like Thrifty — all their cars were rented already) and I’m stranded here.
For some reason, as the National guy tried, my card just would not get processed. Kept getting declined. I called my institution, they updated the card due to being out of town, still it did not work. So the person helping on the phone from my financial institution, asked me a brilliant question: “Is there no other merchant who could provide the same service?” Actually, there is. I tell the guy thank you, collect my card. Make a reservation with Enterprise and slightly shift over. Enterprise is right next to Alamo. And Enterprise was fairly packed, had a queue going, unlike the other companies. Also, keep in mind Rental companies in Puerto Rico require you to bring the car back to where you rented it from. So since I got this car from San Juan, they’d expect me to drive another 2hr 30mins back tomorrow to return it then find my way back another 2hr 30mins to Rincon. Veronica did hint on a work around. Benefits of making pretty girls smile. I know, too cheesy.
Enterprise said my charge was $45 final charge (the car was around $28) for one day. Veronica talked me into adding “coverage” for $19.99 — covers scratch, wreck, car theft. I later checked my receipt while on the highway and Enterprise has silently charged me over $80 for one day rental, I scratch my head as I wonder whatever happened to the $45 the guy quoted me. Surely, $45 + $19.99 = $64.99 but Enterprise must have some advanced calculus going on.
A friend of a friend lives here in Puerto Rico, he’s surprised I chose Rincon over San Juan. Paola from the airport did confirm Rincon is a darling place to be though she chose to live in San Juan. I drove pass a biker “Valhalla” bar don’t know how I feel about that. I did fly all this way to experience
d i f f e r e n t from where I’m coming from so less biker bars and more “Desayuno” signs would be much appreciated. And FYI, their cops are quite active on the highway.
Some parts of the road as you reach Rincon is one lane but there’s no demarcating line, you know like the yellow or white line to show the lane for cars, at first I wondered whether I was driving in the wrong direction of a one lane road because no cars were behind me, well, nope. That’s just how that road was. Also, while the roads are quite similar to mainland, driving in Puerto Rico, especially how oncoming traffic merges to highway traffic is quite trippy. You also all of a sudden run out of road on a two way lane and it just suddenly becomes one lane and you have to merge over. Something one would eventually get used to, if you stay here long.
The most trippy was trying to stop at a fast food by the highway. I was just looking at the building as I drove pass not finding an exit to branch and get an unhealthy burger. It turns out, you come upon the “exit” way before you reach the fast food even though you can see the eatery right by the highway, there’s a barricade preventing you from entering, if you’ve unfortunately passed the unsuspecting “exit”. There’s a few McDonalds, a lot more Burger King’s and a bunch of Wendy’s. I drove pass Church’s, Popeyes, Domino’s and Walmart/Sam’s club also.
I’m a 5 minute walk from the beach and 8mins walk from downtown, I can pay this much to be around someone sensible, at a clean place and almost right by the water, without being stuck in some resort but living like a local, a privileged local nonetheless but local all the same. Which is really what I came for. To heal by the water. To be central to everything, including the beach, without having to drive and this hot place has it. I will march my way back upstairs, turn on the AC to a cold enough temperature and pass the french out. My host mentions she runs every morning, talking about 3 to 5 miles, while I did not come all this way to suffer, I will run once in a while, without losing my breath.
All in all, I’m glad I came. I’m glad I have to function away from my very comfortable and absolutely amazing life. I did not have to leave to appreciate it but I left anyways so I can experience different.
Thank God for the privilege to spend money. Thank God for the opportunity to be useful while far away. Thank God for safe travels. Thank God for houses with confusing addresses. Thank God for houses with measured air conditioning. Humble, yet quality living. Thank God for the opportunity of having a home that I miss. Having a city that I miss. I would have gone running this morning, went grocery shopping. I would have played volleyball today, or soccer or went hiking or went out to dinner, sat at a park, watched people do stunts on their motor cycle, on their power board, on their skates. There are a bunch of different things I could have done today, but instead I had good conversations, ate three Wendy’s burgers for the first time this year, drank some bottle water I wouldn’t even touch if I were back home. And look forward to going grocery shopping tomorrow, figuring out a way to return this car, donating most of my money to Uber to bring me back to the house and finding ways to be productive and useful while simultaneously being open, free and ready to soak good experiences while being reminded that at any point in time, I could book a flight and head somewhere else. No pressure, no expectation, simply living.
If you haven’t been to Puerto Rico, it’s somewhere in between South America and North America. Location wise yes, but I meant culturally. Accommodation was the greatest challenge for my trip you could say I’m picky or quite specific, followed by transportation but that didn’t stop me this time from making the trip and neither should it stop you. Puerto Rico, “the Island of Enchantment” is in your backyard, get to know it.
For there is an experience on the other side of the fence, it might not be greener but it would definitely make you finer, wiser, and humbler.
So be fine, no matter what live throws at you. Choose wise because foolishness is really unappealing. And, live humble because how else would you rather live?