San Juan, Puerto Rico - with warmth and humidity, it was such a very nice change from post-blizzard New York. Since the ocean is my absolute favourite thing in the world, I loved the breezes full of the salty ocean scent and the constant sound of waves that followed me everywhere.
Having a Spanish speaker around was definitely handy. Gabe took care of all the logistics, and while Puerto Rico is for sure English-friendly, it's always better and easier to speak their language. The trick here is to always be cautious. Gabe tried to teach me this "Puerto Rican dialect for thank you" that was actually some very bad words that could literally get you punched, and thankfully I never said it to anyone after slowly realizing that he never said it. Still, I must have muttered it more than a few times while I thought I was practicing, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who had to hear my unintentional cursing on the plane, in the cab, in the hotel lobby, in the pool...
This trip almost didn't happen. One of my New Years' resolutions was to be more spontaneous, and in trying to do so we left for the airport two hours before our flight and barely made it on time. And by barely, I mean literally barely; boarding stopped at 7:30pm and we got to our gate, anxious and puffing, at 7:29. We also had to throw away some aerosols and liquids because check-in was already closed, and needless to say the trip looked like it was off to a bad start. But no, we persevered, and it ended up being one of the best trips of my life.
Shoutout to the NYU waterbottle!
We started our first day with breakfast buffet, and were out for about two hours before rain started pouring. And no, unlike we had hoped, it didn't stop for another four hours. So we went back to our room (lame, I know), and defeated by exhaustion we took a nap until dinner. After waking up starving, we grabbed some bites and drinks at the bar. Of course I had to get the piña colada and of course it was heavenly.
Salsa music started playing (quick fact: salsa was invented by Puerto Ricans in New York) and Gabe the salsa expert started teaching me. In all fairness, I did do ballet/dance for almost 10 years, but improvisation really isn't my thing. It was hard enough to grasp the fast rhythm of the music and it was even harder to improvise, without any choreography, to the beats. Those who can salsa have my major respect! Maybe after a few more drinks I would be less awkward about it, but for now, I'm still "working" on it.
At night, we took a walk by the beach, and it was completely dark except for a tiny-teeny bit of moonlight and lights from distant bungalows. It was so different from the beach during daytime, so much more serene and engulfing. The tides had receded and we walked along the edge of the water, feeling like we were on the edge of the world. Hearing the waves surrounding me made me feel like I was in one of those sea shells. It was just us, and the water, and the occasional ship horns coming from afar.
So one important lesson we learned was that a resort is not the same as a beachside hotel with pools. The goal of the resort is to trap you there, and it was extremely difficult to get anywhere and our only mode of transportation were the hotel taxis. And of course, abusing their monopoly powers, the prices were quite ridiculous. At the end of the first day we wanted to book shuttles out of the resort, either into old San Juan or to a natural formation for a hike, or to anywhere other than the resort to be honest, and not only was it an unnecessarily difficult process but it was also absurdly priced. We were told that we had to book our trips 24 hours in advance (seriously?!) and each trip costed around 40 slices of Joe's pizzas (kudos to anyone who knows how much that is). Long story short, we couldn't really go anywhere.
After accepting the fact that we were stuck, no, correction, voluntarily staying, in the resort for another day, we did some more soul-searching by the beach. This time, the sun wasn't hiding behind the clouds anymore, and I finally got the tan I wanted and perfected the mermaid hair. Pro tip: lack of washing and a balanced combination of salt and sand does the trick. A bonus about the resort (whoa, am I really saying this?) is that it does have a private beach, which means that the beach is much less crowded and noisy than usual. All days we found quiet little spots, and we would set up our beach loungers right at the edge of the beach where the water just glazes over the sand. With jazz playing in the background and warm breezes blowing over us, it could not have been more perfect.
Confession - I lied about not having a photographer boyfriend, he's just a photographer-boyfriend-in-training. Gabe took amazing photos of moi and he was really good at tripod improvisation, aka putting the camera onto whatever surface we could find and setting the self-timer up. Finding rocks with flat surfaces is the easy part, the difficulty lies in the sheer art of jumping over all the obstacles and still looking effortlessly good. But hey, if Taylor Swift could get away with hiring a vacation photographer, who says we can't pretend to have done the same? After all, all these photos look too good to be amateur... or maybe we are just insanely skillful at tripod improvisation.
We found an iguana! They were actually quite abundant here, but still it was quite exciting to see them prance around. The next day we finally got our hands on a tour out of the resort and off to El Yunque we went.
The rainforest was absolutely stunning. The green and the dampness surrounded us and the sounds of the stream running and insects chirping were simply divine. Although we would have liked to hike through a less constructed trail, it was still a very lovely experience. We managed to get into the stream a few times along the way. The water was blue, rich with bacteria, feeding and nourishing the rainforest. The thing about this tour is that they took us on the most popular track, so there were a lot more people than we'd liked. Gabe was definitely not impressed by the amount of people chilling by La Mina Falls. We swam in the waterfall but we didn't get any pictures or footage of us doing that. These days, if you didn't take a photo, you might as well didn't go, so let's just say that none of that happened.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the beach (basically the default setting) and watching the sunset, which was, in my opinion, one of the most romantic things in the world. Part of the beach gave us perfect access to the sunset, and all we had to do was lay on the beach loungers and wait for the magic to happen. Anyone who has watched a sunset knows that it seems to take forever at first, until the very last moments when it feels like the sun is literally being swallowed up by the horizon and for a second it just drops and then it's gone. For me, those are some of the most beautiful moments in life, and also really special moments to share with someone else. I try to make it into some kind of collection in that I try to watch and document the sunset in all the places I travel to and the people who I'm with.
The hour before the sunset is known as the golden hour, and of course we could not let it go to waste. We continued with our tripod improvisation and this time, the obstacle course was made up of rocks and stones, and was much harder to manoeuvre. There were these two old ladies sitting right beside us and they must have had such a laugh watching us. Let's just say, 10 seconds is not enough for climbing over sharp rocks and getting into positions in time.
In case you're wondering, the marks on my leg are from the times (yes, multiple) Gabe pushed me into the ocean.
We checked out Old San Juan on our very last day, before we had to fly back to New York. The day was perfectly hot and sunny and everything one could ever wish for on a Caribbean island. The old city is sandwiched between two coastlines, with rows and rows of colourful houses just screaming happiness. Every door and every alleyway deserved its own photo album. I got to taste amazing coconut ice cream from a street cart, made with real coconut oil, and it was definitely better than any coconut ice cream/gelato/sorbet I've ever had in all the gourmet ice cream shops. We finally got to eat some non-resort, real Puerto Rican food too. We ordered a mofongo (tastes like potatoes but is actually a branch of the banana/plantain family), some steak strips, some beans and rice, and tamarind smoothies - very classically Caribbean. It was absolutely delicious.
I look very calm in the photo above, but in reality I was scared as hell. If the ledge looks too small to fit a person, it's because it was. Gabriel, our star cinematographer, came up with the brilliant idea of putting me onto a skinny-as ledge 5 feet above ground. I was holding onto it for dear life and this is pretty much the only photo that I wasn't screaming in. The things we do for the camera!
We definitely wished that we could have spent more time here, especially at night. The majority of the houses have become shops, hotels, and restaurants, we while we did manage to go into a few local shops, which were so adorable and eccentric, we wished we had more time to do more exploring. Also, we heard that Calle Fortaleza transforms in the evening with its equivalent of New York's Restaurant Row lit up. Surely a must-do when we come back!
We also attempted to film a video for this trip and it's a lot harder than it looks. First we had to overcome the embarrassment of being the obnoxious people with a selfie stick all the time, then we had to actually remember to film all the time. This is our best attempt at capturing our trip on film! A note on the music - Gabe started playing his jazz playlist on our first day at the beach and "Take Five" just somehow became our song for the trip.