The musings and misadventures of a girl unprepared

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

In Puerto Rico, we fly kites

Last week I decided to fly the Mexican nest for an adventure a little further afield, to visit my friend Imogen who is currently on her study abroad semester in Martinique. En route I even managed to fit in a cheeky stop over in the lovely island of Puerto Rico, where I couchsurfed one night with an energetic local called Omar, who did an incredible job of showing me around the old town in the short time I had.

It actually took three connecting flights to get to Martinique, which meant I also got to have breakfast in Miami at TGI Friday's. Yuuuuuuummy.

Most of my time in Puerto was spent simply wandering around the town (and I do love a good wander, me) hopping in and out of various bars, cafes and even an arts university. Omar knew just about anyone and everyone we bumped into, making the 'local' experience that I love about couchsurfing all the more authentic. One place in particular that we stopped off at was a bar that had once been Pedro Albizu Campos's house, one of Puerto Rico's most important revolutionaries (if not the most important, or at least that's the impression I got!) It was really interesting for me to see as one of my modules at university is the Revolutions of the 20th Century, and there I was in his house, seeing the bullet holes in the wall and original newspaper clippings from the time.

Some of the street art around the city. Of course I had to get a touristy picture next to the Puerto Rican flag.

Beautiful little cobbled streets and colourful buildings.

Whilst we were sitting having a drink at the plastics school, I noticed there were dozens of kites hanging from the trees in the courtyard. My first thought was that it was some kind of design or artsy statement, after all it is an arts university, but my ponderings were soon answered by Omar as we walked across the beach (which is located just outside the school, making it one of the most picturesque places to study I have ever encountered).

'When you're a kid in the UK, your dad takes you to play soccer, right? And in the States they throw a football. Well here in Puerto Rico, we fly kites.'

Father and son kite flying time.

A good portion of our time was spent exploring what Omar called the 'barrio' which literally translates to 'neighbourhood' or 'suburb'. The difference between the barrio streets and those in the centre of Old San Juan were immediately evident; much more miss-matched and improvised much like those that I've grown accustomed to in my beloved Mexico, splattered with vibrant graffiti creating a unique atmosphere on every corner. It was clear that the houses where not of a government funded project, but each had been individually laboured over by its owner, creating a beautiful maze of colour and shapes as we wound ourselves through the higgledy-piggledy network of homes, corner stores and bars. Perhaps it was the complete rawness of the place and the people, or the utter disorganised organisation that pulsed from every wall, but this is the part of San Juan that really stole my heart. The part that isn't done up for the tourists, but the real, gritty Puerto Rico.

And LOOK where it is located. Just, wow.
We continued our tour of the town, stopping by a few bars on the way of course, and thus my sampling of local cuisine began. The food was great, especially this fried plantain/potato/meat combo called 'Alcapuria' (pictured below) and a very fancy looking prawn cocktail with plantain crisps. Basically all the plantains, which is funny for me because the only other Puerto Rican guy I've ever known used to bring plantains to every potluck dinner we had... It would appear that some stereotypes really are true.

Omar telling me to 'pretend to eat it' for the picture, until we realised that it kinda just looked like a giant, deep-fried penis (it is nicknamed 'El Bisexual'), which of course I couldn't stop laughing about for several hours.

Although the food was great I can't say the same for the beer. As Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States (but also not at the same time, apparently not even people from the island understand exactly how this works), unfortunately they have the same crappy 'light beer' that they have in the States, which basically just tastes like beer flavoured water. I'm sorry guys, European beer is still the best. However, unlike in the States, it was relatively inexpensive and they didn't check my I.D. every five seconds, so I suppose I really can't complain too much.

The night continued in a similar vein, more exploring, drinking (apparently the more light beer you drink, the better it starts to taste) and we even met some other couchsurfers in a bar owned by Omar's friend, who we eventually went salsa dancing with. The salsa bar even had a live band in which the majority of the musicians had dreadlocks *swoons*. So despite the fact that by this point I hadn't slept in about 48 hours and I was borderline delirious, I had a pretty awesome night.

The next morning we decided to take a stroll (well, more like a clamber, I'm hardly graceful) across the rocks and corals on the beach.  It was a beautiful morning, the sea air was fresh and inviting and the water endless and full of life. I just love the sea. I don't know if I've ever shared this on here, but my biggest dream is to own my own hostel on a beach, so every time I visit the shore my heart strings are tugged on just a little more. There's something about the water that just calls to me and I can't wait for the day when I don't have to leave.

Our destination was a quiet beach a little way down from the barrio. where we came locals kitted out with their fishing gear and taking a morning paddle.

And this is where the real fun began. We'd timed our little adventure perfectly, to give us enough time for a short swim before returning back to the house, grabbing my bags and heading off to the airport to catch my flight. However, this is me and I like to do stupid things to ruin plans because that's just what I'm good at. Let's just say I learned a very valuable lesson about swimming through coral reefs that morning.

Exhibit A: How to Swim through a coral reef like a pro:

Exhibit B: How to swim through a coral reef like an idiot, not factoring in the salt content in the water making it a lot harder to stay under the water than you're used to, thus causing you to float to the top scratching your back and dragging your hand across a sea urchin which hurts like HELL and almost results in a trip to the hospital just hours before your flight:

The picture actually doesn't make it seem so bad, but I promise you it was bloody agony, and I have a pretty high pain threshold. To make matters worse I couldn't actually go to the hospital in Puerto Rico because I didn't actually have health insurance there, and we couldn't get any of the spines out ourselves so I just had to board my flight with a swollen, bloody hand and wait until I arrived in Martinique, which is thankfully part of France (three cheers for European health insurance!). Luckily, it turned out I didn't even need to go to hospital in the end, but in case anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation, I've included the link of how to treat a sea urchin sting above, because it would have been bloomin' useful for me to know this at the time. You live and you learn eh?

So in less than 24 hours I managed to get a whole lot fit in and I really enjoyed my stay. It almost felt like a taster session of the country and I definitely feel like I'll have to return one day!

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