SAN JUAN – After sitting around in the café, I still had a few hours before Melina was to get out of class. I decided that I could walk around the city with my luggage and then make my way over the university.
It was about 90 degrees outside and I had forgotten to pack a hat, but I chugged along seeing the sights of the non-tourist portion of San Juan. This is where I would see more of the working community, but also one that is overshadowed with empty buildings.
I walked around the city and got about a 2-mile walk in before I and my suitcase wheels were tired. This time alone looking at the scenes of empty buildings would shape my questions for the locals.
I Ubered over to the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras campus which is where Melina was in class. I had about two hours of free time so I thought a cup of coffee was in order to get some reading done.
The campus is beautiful and has had what looks like some restoration done to the main clock tower, which reminds me of Old North at the University of Central Oklahoma. After looking at that I somehow stumbled my way to the faculty coffee house.
Being a Friday afternoon it was the only place open on campus and I quickly got acquainted with two English professors, a dean and the chair of the physical sciences department. Being a higher education person, I got to talking with one of the English teachers about the university.
Was I in for a lesson about the university’s union. It is the most heated issue on campus as faculty need raises and their buildings are falling apart, however the union has not stepped up to help them. Though she said the union has done good things in the past they are not at the moment.
Then she began talking about her life and the island culture. I asked her about the buildings being empty and she said that Hurricane Maria had caused some of the destruction, it had mostly been the corrupt government.
I am starting to pick up on the passion that people on the island have for each other. It is not one for the United States or even the commonwealth government here.
Her last point was on Puerto Rican women. She had to tell me all about how her husband had come to island as a friend from her university days and they ended up marrying each other. She said, “We know what we want.”
After 45 minutes of talking my lesson on the government, university union and Puerto Rican woman was over I finally was able to read my book titled American Gospel by my favorite author Jon Meacham.
I got a lot more reading in that I expected to as Melina’s class, a computer science lab, ran late and at 5:30 p.m. I met up with her. I was happy to finally get going to the southern portion of the island.
We got some gas and were on our way to La Parguera, Puerto Rico, which in the southwestern portion of the country. It was a two hour and forty-minute drive. Luckily Melina is a great driver.
We had some great conversations about her family and her future. She is hopefully about to start a new chapter in her educational career but has to make a decision between a Ph.D. and post-bachelorette degree. Monday is decision day.
We stopped at a Walmart to get some items for the beach and met up with her friend there who would join us. After that we headed to hotel rather sleepy eyed from a long day. I was looking a little red from all of the sun I had gotten.
We arrived at our Airbnb and got situated and then got some dinner. I had some excellent fish tacos and then we headed back to hit the sack. However, there were two small houses right next to each other and they were named almost identical to each other. I thought we had both and the key worked for both.
About ten minutes after getting back the two ladies had people at their door with confused looks on their faces. Apparently, we had only gotten one, but luckily there was plenty of room for us all in one.
We all headed to bed the second we got there and were sound asleep quickly
Melina was a little under the weather and needed some medicine, so I was up early grabbing some along with some orange juice and coffee. Needless to say, I was the early riser by a few hours.
Today was beach day and after grabbing some breakfast we headed over to a beach rather close. It was a nice beach and a smaller one. It was cloudy so we sat around and talked. More of Melina’s friends had arrived by that point.
It was nice to relax and just listen to the waves come in. After a couple of hours, we headed off to lunch in town. I had a tasty chicken stuffed avocado. The avocado was massive, I have never seen one that large. In addition, I had some fried plantains.
We headed off to another beach close to where the United States had landed in the invasion of Puerto Rico in the late 1800s. I need to learn more about the history of the island. At this beach we all watched the sunset and did some swimming in what they considered cold water. I thought it was rather warm.
While you cannot beat an Oklahoma Sunset, the one here on the beach was beautiful as it set over the ocean. It is a reminder of how lucky I am to have great friends across the world and fortunate to be able to travel.
Afterward we headed back into town to go on the bioluminescent tour of a bay nearby. We all got on a passenger ferry with about a hundred or so others and headed off. It was about 15 minutes away but was beautiful to see the night sky. Her brother and his friend joined us here, along with two others.
We got there and it was amazing to see the water light up with a light blue when you moved your hand through it. There were some people from the ferry company who would go out into the water and show how it worked. It was a moonlit night, so they would have been even brighter if it was not.
I would take anybody there to see it. On the way back Melina and I would be talking about our families and everything else. This portion has been recorded in a personal journal, but needless to say I let her know that March had been one of the toughest months in my entire life.
Afterward, we went back into town to have some dinner. This is where I tried the Mofongo with flank steak. It is made with plantains that have been fried, smashed and then fried into a shape of a bowl. Then they pour a garlic sauce on the top with the meat. It was outstanding and I will be making it in the near future.
Today Melina payed for my meals, which if you know me drives me up a wall, but I let it slide and focused more on the breaking of bread with friends.
After that we headed back to our rooms and hit the sack. I was even more red than the day before.
My eternal clock had me up early again, and I was quickly off to get some coffee and orange juice. However, my mornings shower is rather quick due to there being only a small in-line water heater. I am told by the locals that the water is solar heated as a joke.
It is a slow morning, but we gather our stuff and then head off down the road back to San Juan. We stop at a place to eat along the way with some of Melina’s friends who had come the day before. They were a nice couple and he would share a lot about the island culture.
During our entire car ride back I really got to know Melina and her love for others. This is the spirit of Puerto Rico that I had been looking for. Ever since Hurricane Maria hit things have been difficult for the island, which included jobs. Her mother had just moved to Kansas to get a better job.
She is somebody who deeply cares about others, along with being a scientist and researcher who wants to make civilization better. Melina has some outstanding goals for the future and wants to own a farm in either the central or northern portion of the island one day.
Tears flowed out of her eyes when she talked about the island and how things were going. Then she said, “This is my island.” This is when I grasped that Puerto Ricans are invested in the island and family. This culture of family is apparent throughout as she also has a keen interest in her family genealogy.
During this time, we talked everything from politics to religion. I enjoyed getting to know her so much better. I also have great joy that we have the same backgrounds of growing up with divorced parents, a slightly dysfunctional family but a true love for the family. It brings tears to my eyes.
We got my next Airbnb and I got my stuff dropped off and we headed off for Old San Juan. She had a class assignment/group meeting to get to, so I saw this area by myself. I would start by seeing the main castle called Castillo San Felipe del Morro San Juan.
It was an amazing structure and wealth of information about the Spanish ruling of the island until the United States took over. After touring I got myself a snow cone which was made using an old hand shaver. My grandpa Elmo Tapia would enjoy seeing this as he has a hand ice shaver as well. I think he would enjoy the whole island.
I walked the streets and plopped down at a coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up (Perrier) and a cool down. It is rather hot today and the sun is beating down on the island.
Next up is seeing the rest of Old San Juan.