When you reach the doors of the trans-Atlantic plane, Puerto Rico greets you with a flush of warm, bright air. It’s not the heat that makes the vein on your forehead appear – it’s a comforting kind of heat – the kind of feeling you get from one too many champagnes, or a long hug. Perhaps the same feeling Puerto Rican people give you.
Located a 2.5 hour flight south of Miami, Puerto Rico seems a world away. Majority of flights land in San Juan, the capital. Brightly coloured terrace hours dance on cobbled streets. The warm air seems to bring a sense of ease out in both tourists and locals. With winter boasting temperatures up to 30 degrees Celsius, it’s difficult to feel anything but relaxed. The locals live on island time, so nothing happens with haste. Their understanding of basic principles of traffic are comparable to that of the third world. The road markings appear to be more for decoration rather than to create any form of social order. However frustrating it may appear, it’s all done with a smile and a wave.
While the colour of San Juan is invigorating, much culture appears lost to tight t-shirt wearing Germans and sweaty Americans in grimy flip-flops. If you want an authentic experience, head elsewhere.
Roughly 200kms southwest of San Juan lies Mayagüez. Mayagüez has a population of approximately 90, 000. With a car, this city is a perfect base for exploring surrounding beaches and forests.
One such location is Rincon. This area of the west coast has beaches which boast waves sought by surfers from all corners of the world. While tourists do frequent this area, the harsh twang of American accents appears less noticeable. Not to mention, travel is cheaper the further you get from San Juan.
The beaches in Puerto Rico are like no other. Remember that coloured pencil you used to draw the ocean in kindergarten that was so aqua and so fluorescent it hurt your eyes? Much to my delight, that colour is a reality! The buttery sand and clear glassy water laps at palm trees dotted with coconuts. A tropical dream!
Puerto Rican food is an invigorating mix of Spanish, Mexican and American cuisines. Local owned restaurants did not disappoint. A particular stand out was Cowboys Cantina & Outside Grill. Close to Rincon, this southern/Puerto Rican infusion restaurant ran alongside a team-roping arena. Boasting steak rivalling top-notch restaurants, and rice and beans that are only comparable to food made by a god, this homely eatery was the best.
Partying and Puerto Rico are basically synonyms. If experimenting with new drinks excites you, your ticket should’ve been booked yesterday. Rum is considered the national drink, which makes sense because it’s available in almost any shade. As the world’s leading rum producer, they’ve really got it right. Highlights include Coquito, a festive drink made of rum, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. This must be the drink they supply you in heaven. Another favourite is Pittoro. To get your hands on this gem, you’ll need to befriend a local because as the rum equivalent of “moonshine”, it is technically illegal. The best concoctions are the “cured” or flavoured Pitorro’s, especially the bright green almond variety.
Now if by some cruel twist of fate the deliciousness of Coquito, or the crispness of the unlimited supply of Coronas gets the better of you, there is no place you will be better cared for. Puerto Ricans take you into their homes, into their kitchens, and into their hearts. This is something I know to be true. Doused in never-ending sunlight, let Puerto Rico be your next holiday. You will leave this island with glowing skin, a deep breath, and more friends than you can count on your fingers and toes. Much like the people that live there, the island will take hold of you and never let you go.
Before studying abroad at UMass, I had no idea where this island was located. My beautiful Puerto Rican roommate Fabiola Morell not only took me home to discover her island, she also took my heart. This little post is dedicated to her.