What do I think about Puerto Rico. I’m here right now. Alive and well in Rincon. The beach is like 5mins walk from here. Quiet, peaceful, maybe a person here or there but generally serene. The water is just there for you to watch, so I sit and watch. Enjoy the sunset, eat my dinner and walk back to the house. Those who want to swim, swim. I just want to sit by the water and be entertained by the waves and how close the water gets to me with zero thoughts on my mind. You see the lights on the cruise ship very far away. You see the person camped out every night on their small boat close to shore. This is what I came for and I am opportune and privileged to enjoy it. Thank God.
It’s not cool like you’d expect being this close to water. You’re still hot and sweaty, even indoors, because it’s more common to only use the AC in the bedroom, while living room, kitchen, are both room temperature unless the house has AC installed for living room and/or kitchen. Central AC is uncommon. The temperature at this time, 8:39pm, 79 degrees and 89% humidity, is quite sweaty, so you go without a shirt. Hawai’i is 81 degrees with 56% humidity and the hottest place I know, Phoenix is 82 degrees and 10% humid, even San Diego is 79 degrees and 23% humid. If I were home right now, I’d be experiencing perfect weather. 72 degrees, 64% humid.
The ceiling fans don’t really do much but this is what I came for. To experience a life different from how I live in my city and to hopefully see better. I did come all the way this way to escape the cold but that also means you cannot complain about the sun or the heat.
Prior to visiting here, I only know of two people who’ve been here. One of my friends’ adore and raves about Puerto Rico, (San Juan, really) and the other does not and did not like San Juan. And, here I am.
Before laying down honest raw thoughts about PR, we should establish a common understanding. You see, I’m a traveler, not a tourist. Sounds the same, looks the same, but walk with me for a second.
The basic idea is generally the same, superbly similar and often thought to be interchangeable. But, they are completely different. Yes, they both “travel” to a place that they do not live in, however the difference comes in the experience, reason for travel and mentality of traveler.
You see, as a traveler, when I go to Jamaica, I’m not going for a wedding, I’m not going to go sit drunk and well fed in a resort — keep in mind I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these, just making a point. I’m not going to go visit the “nice part of town with gated communities where they only serve American food”. Jamaica in this sense can be substituted for any country or city really, worldwide. Now, all of these listed would be what a tourist does. “Show me the highlights and spoil me in the few days that I’m here”.
As a traveler, I’m not “looking to be spoiled”, “I’m not looking for you to carry my bags, I can carry my own backpack”, “I’m not here to escape a horrible job for a weekend”, my main reason for going to a destination, is to live like a local. Period. So if locals eat maggots, well I don’t really have appetite for worms or maggots, and I definitely would not eat maggots at home, but yes, while I am here, with the locals, I eat what they eat. Simple. You see, different mindset. Does majority of the locals live in gated communities? then ok. Does majority of the locals go by bus or metro? then I want to figure out how to coordinate my stops and move about like a local. I don’t want a taxi, I don’t want hotel shuttle, unless flight reasons, I want to get on the bus and navigate. Think of London, think of Montreal. It’s plug and play. You step out of the plane and everyone is the same. Nobody knows who’s visiting and who’s a novice.
I don’t get concerned to share intimate space with a local, I’m not concerned that I might not speak the language, I’m not concerned that I might not necessary understand what their conversation is about, I’m not concerned that paying at the cash register might be a little tricky, I’m not concerned that the grocery aisle is incredibly small compared to back home, I’m not concerned about the differences, in fact I came for the differences. The experiences. Eat my french fries with gravy? I mean, did you guys run out of ketchup? Have you ever tried fries and ketchup? I swear, they go together, but I’m not here to change your culture or suggest differently. Give me the gravy and I’ll finish the fries. Because, I’m a traveler, not a tourist.
Don’t misunderstand, I do not go seeking out the “bad” part of town but I’m not going to be restricted in a secluded and separate area, intentionally avoiding the culture of the place I traveled to, if that’s the goal, then just stay home. I was in parts of Spain where I couldn’t tell you the name of the town or show you where the town is on the map. Little towns where unmistakably, unintentionally, I most likely was the only black man in the whole state — well visiting black man, just in case they have an Afro family living there. But that’s how remote I went and that’s alright with me. Funny enough I did meet a girl from South Carolina who lived in one of these very remote villages in Spain. I came to experience culture. Open to be positively impacted. And while I flew into Madrid, I never stepped into Barcelona.
Alright, background laid, let’s come back to Puerto Rico. Minutes after touch down, I was on the phone with a friend of a friend and he was surprised I “snubbed” San Juan and chose an out of the way town, Rincon. He did not understand that I am not a tourist, I am a traveler. And actually, honestly, my unofficial plan was to go from town to town. You know, like here Rincon, then Ponce, then Fajardo and like that. Just like I did in Spain. If I do make it out to San Juan, perfect but hey — there’s life going on in these other towns and I would like to see how I can integrate.
Alright, a lot of words, let’s get specific.
What do I think of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is an Island. They do well attracting a lot of visitors, most from the main land. San Juan is the “designated” place to receive these visitors. Venturing out is like disturbing the “natives” of the land. In this case “Puertoricans”. You, the outsider, should stay within the lines that’s been given to you, which is San Juan. Well, I’m not a tourist, I did not come for the museum or the statues or the cobble streets. I did not come for Burger King or for Chinese food or to take “perfect” selfies. I came to eat where you eat. Get bitten by the mosquitoes that disturbs you too. I came to run on the roads with limited side walks, I came to use the same ATMs that you use and I came to go to the beach that you go to. Yes, my first sentence would reveal I’m not from “here” but what does it matter? At this moment in time, I am here and you are here. We will never meet again. Would you like to interact? You don’t have to, I won’t remember you, but maybe we have a lot more in common than you think. Either way, you’ll be fine and so will I. But I did find your heritage interesting and inspiring that I came all this way to appreciate it. Yeah, it doesn’t mean anything to you but hey, thank God for your heritage. Thank God for mine. Make it out my way some day. And together we can appreciate the different heritages of the world.
4AM last night, I booked my ticket out of here. Keep in mind, I came here on a one way ticket to, you know, “see how it goes”. I arrived Puerto Rico with thoughts like Can I live here? it would not be so rad if I moved here. What’s life like here? A lot of optimism that’s since sipped out as days went by. I enjoyed the beach, don’t get me wrong. But this is a touristy place and doesn’t cut it for me. Should I return in the future, I would check out San Juan, rent a car and still check out Ponce but you know, I am not incredibly impressed — from a traveler’s point of view. It’s like they (locals) want to be left alone yet outsiders keep bothering their space.
In all the countries I’ve visited, and this has nothing to do with me or to suggest I’m more than who I am, but in all the continents I’ve travelled to, I have not encountered, not one time, where you have to pay the “host” of a language exchange get-together. It’s a common outing for people in “foreign” countries to go to language exchanges where you’d interact with locals who want to practice speaking in your language as you simultaneously try to learn a thing or two in their language. In San Juan, you have to pay the host — it was only one person organizing the gathering but that also just robs you the wrong way. It’s not about the money. I came on this trip with an open budget. I’ve never traveled without a scope of what to spend but on this trip, money is not an issue, I could spend whatever I want to spend, so it’s not the inability to afford, it’s the principle of the whole thing. Don’t excessively exploit, appreciate the sanctity of travel. That is it.
Getting around here is awful — for a traveler. A tourist? probably a breeze. Tourists don’t want to integrate or interact anyways. They want things as similar to where they’re coming from as possible. They don’t care to learn your language. They stay in Dondado with other “outsiders”, strictly restricting themselves to certain areas of the Island and very happy too. A traveler on the other hand, wants to ride Camels or Elephants or whatever it is locals go places on. Imagine the shock when the lady in Aguadilla told me there are no buses. What? what do you mean there are no buses? You’re telling me everybody, every family owns a car? why? I don’t believe that. Neither do I believe they all take taxis everywhere, I mean how much do they make? It’s not practical and if that really is the case, then it’s unfair to the locals. Wait, did you say there is no Uber? What?
I reach out to the first taxi company, because regardless of my rant or how I feel, I do have to go from Aguadilla back to the house in Rincon before it gets too late. The first company says charge is $50. Oh, really. Well, would you take $40? The answer’s No.
So, the second company — same thing, $50, well sure I do have to get home somehow. Both taxi drivers are buddies. There’s only two or three taxi companies “online”.
Next time, I reach out to taxi company — Rincon to San Juan Airport, he goes $160. Damn, really. How about $120? No. Alright, $140? No. I mean, I could rent a car and it’d still be cheaper.
I reached out to another taxi company, he was more generous. He’d go out of his way to drive me from Rincon to San Juan airport if I pay him $190!
Well, I’m stuck here then. I mean, how do I leave without paying ridiculous prices? Why treat me different? Do all the locals take taxi to San Juan and pay $190 each way? I do have to make my flight tomorrow morning but I don’t know how I would get to the Airport. They didn’t ask you to come, you chose to leave your home to come “pollute” their space. It’s unfortunate that’s the “arrogance?” they give off. I don’t know what it’s like to be Puerto Rican living in Puerto Rico, possibly wishing for a day when you’d be your own Country and tired of answering to or driving around “outsiders” all day. But really, just as a person can relocate from Puerto Rico straight to New York and nobody gives a shoot, you would think a person could come here and integrate with no problem. Or maybe it’s a race thing but I’d rather not insult their intelligence.
At least Hawai’i without a doubt, with zero mistakes, Hawai’i will constantly remind you “you’re not in America” right now. Even though Hawai’i is more “American” than Puerto Rico. And, that’s why I will return to Hawai’i even at the reality of being homeless (during the Christmas season, the whole of Oahu was booked out, the only two or three hotels out of hundreds that had rooms available where charging over $2,000 a night, the place I was staying in, someone else booked the dates that I didn’t book before I could modify my stay— so from December 26th through till after New Year, I was SOL. I took a screenshot of the hotel prices, one wwas over $5,000 for a night and sent it to friends back home. I had “reasonable” money to book a hotel room but there was no rooms for reasonable charges. I mean $2,000 a night? and my return flight is in January? Even a camper, sleeping outside the host’s house, was booked or ridiculously expensive. But I would take that reality than this here.)
But who cares about my experience? their concern is to feed their family, period. And if that means taking advantage of everyone who speaks “broken” Spanish then so be it. This is their opportunity to make money and if you want to haggle or don’t seem content, then walk to San Juan or go try a different cab company if you can find one. It’s really that simple. Pay or take a hike. Hopefully, you see what’s wrong with the above.
This is the idea with visiting Puerto Rico. Movement is incredibly limited. Uber cannot pick you up from the airport. Either family, taxi or what they really want you to do — you rent a car. They don’t charge for insurance when you rent a car, you can add “coverage” if anything goes wrong but you are not required to get it to rent the car. I haven’t rented a car in many years but I remember in college when we rented cars we were charged enormous amounts for “car insurance”. It’s not the same here. I rented a car here and I did opt for coverage.
In my short interactions in San Juan, I met friendly people and the friend of a friend that I told you about, they were friendly too, wanted to take me around and show me how the locals lived — in San Juan. However, outside of San Juan, I did not really feel welcomed, my money was welcomed but they didn’t care about the person spending the money like say in San Jose or in Bogota. And, I’d choose both places before Puerto Rico.
The friendly people that I did encounter here in Rincon are visitors like myself, now they might have moved here, I don’t know, but I do know they were from somewhere else, most likely main land.
If I want to ski, I would ski where I live or tour the world going from one ski location to the next. If I want to surround myself with the sounds of Mandarin I’d go to China or to each Chinese restaurant I can find that’s crowded with Mandarin speakers. If however I were to go order Japanese Sushi at an Oriental Japanese establishment but an Egyptian (who’s never stepped foot in Japan) is the Chef, my brain begins to glitch. All I’m saying is it is great for places to have similarities but their identity should not be lost because they want to please visitors.
When I’m Rome, I expect to act Roman and if something is too weird for me or morally incorrect, I can excuse myself or go somewhere else but I’d rather not be in Rome and feel like I’m in Kentucky.
This is my experience. Yours most likely would be different. Also, based on your race, your experience very much might be different. As I drove the rental car, to and from San Juan, I did find Puerto Rico, though I did not go round the whole Island, but from my limited exposure, I did find here to be quite Caucasian centric. I completely understand, I completely get it. Surfing is huge here and maybe 90 percent of tourists here, who come to spend the big bucks are Caucasian. It’d only make sense to pay more attention to where the money is and I agree.
The issue that I have however is I did not come all the way out here to experience information as though I was back home. Imagine turning on the news in Scotland and the newscasters have a Texas accent — that would be incredibly odd. And this is one of the reasons I am in no hurry to go back to Jamaica. I did not travel all the way to Jamaica to go spend American dollars. Do you guys not have your own currency? Why then are you telling me you prefer I spend USD instead of the Jamaican dollars I have. Why is your menu only American foods? Why offer me Burgers, what happened to curry Goat? what happened to your culture? You see why I don’t stay in resorts? they think me a tourist, they think they’re doing me a favor by offering me food that I’m “used to”. I did not come out this way to eat McDonald’s. I can get the best McDonald’s right outside my house.
Same thing with Puerto Rico, I mean why is the people on the billboard and the drawings on the wall blonde haired and caucasian? If I was in London, yes I’d like to see billboards featuring the people who live there but if I am in India or China or Dubai — can I please see billboard that reflects majority of the people who’s heritage is from there? You catch my point. I’m a traveler, not a tourist and do see things differently. It’s like tuning in to Telemundo, only to hear the host speaking English, I mean I have Fox, CNN and other options for that. I might be 100% wrong that Puerto Ricans are not going out of their way to be “white” or maybe they’d rather that than other options, but I knew it was time to leave when I realized, wait I literally could be sitting on any beach, even the ones back home and have the same or similar experience as I am having, sitting here right now. So why be here?
Believe me, if you’re in Santa Marta, you WILL know you’re not in America. Santa Marta is NOT going out of their way to look or be like San Diego and I love that.
And, I know. I understand, Puerto Rico is American, I just expected more latin heritage than Caucasian. I mean, even Corona, New York looks more latin than here. I’m good thanks. They won’t miss my small dollars. Shoot, twenty one thousand people come in and out of the Island every day, it’s only common sense to please those people, I mean most people returning are returning because they had and are having a good expereince. I, however, would consider New York, Texas, Florida and California even Mexico before returning to Puerto Rico.
And, there you have it. Don’t be too offended. I did enjoy the time I spent here. I’m not trying to change the way of life here, but I understand it’d be best to rent a car if I want to venture outside the box they want me in. My understanding is a rental car is not needed if you stayed in the box, which is San Juan. There is Uber within San Juan and buses apparently.
All the same, I’m glad I visited. While I’m not moving here or extending my stay, I am glad I got on the plane to come experience different. It is mind blowing I couldn’t find a place to play soccer here but it’s all good. Puerto Rico gave me the best that it could give. If only I surfed or snorkeled, it would have gone out of its way to impress me but I’d rather hike, play sports, eat local and venture like a vagabond and that is too unconventional for Puerto Rico to accomodate, and that’s ok. Everywhere cannot be the same. While I can play soccer in Colombia, ride the bus in Costa Rica, I can come to a “weekend” home away from home in Puerto Rico.
Viva La Isla Encante.