SAN JUAN – The coffee here on the island is really strong to say the least. I was told that real Puerto Ricans do not drink americanos, but like either an espresso shot or a latte.
Being new to Puerto Rico I chose an espresso shot with the beans for the coffee coming from the central part of the island. The first sip had me thrown back, but despite its strong taste it was really good. Afterward, I went looking around Old San Juan at art shops and bought a book at a local bookstore.
Melina Pérez Torres said that one of the best books she was wanting was one that had photographs of the island shortly after Hurricane Maria and then had went back to the same area a year later to see the progress. The book is titled A Un Año De María and is a very impactful read.
In the back of most Puerto Rican minds is Hurricane Maria, which hit in the fall of 2017 though the destruction it left is still shown throughout the United States territory. Some villages in the central part of the island still do not have power and blue tarp roofs are still seen.
The destruction that hit the island looked like a tornado hit every house on the island. Hopefully one day the island will get back to normal, but the spirit of the people on the island is fleeting due to jobs being hard to find.
The rest of the day was easy going as I went back to my hotel, had some dinner and fell asleep pretty early.
It was a relaxing morning as I got some breakfast from a place downstairs from my Airbnb. It was nice to not have to walk a long distance to get my coffee.
I spent the morning at the beach relaxing and just listening to the waves, reflecting on anything that came across my mind and the things to come, including my Ph.D. which will take up all of the free time I have left.
I tried to make sure that I was not too stressed on this trip with a strict itinerary. I was glad I did not have one because Puerto Rican time is not Tulsa time. It payed off because I had plenty of free time to talk to people on the island.
I went to a coffee shop that was called The Poet’s Passage, which had some of the best coffee I had ever had. While being strong it did not have the bitter oil taste that hipster coffee shops have, plus I was able to meet the owner.
Lord Damien Andrews owns the shop with his wife who does poetry on the side, she came in after I arrived. Lord Damien was a nice individual who shared that he had just opened his shop back up after losing it to Hurricane Maria.
It brought a visible pain to him to talk about it. He shared that the insurance company who insured him had collapsed after the incident and it took him a long time to get relief. I am glad that he has the spirit of being able to bring back his business which was thriving before the hurricane.
Afterward, I got a piece of art there which I had specialized with the words “Casa Tapia” which means Tapia House. It is a small door with the Puerto Rican flag painted on it.
The day before I had scoped out a few stores that I had my style of artwork, which is from the locals. There was one place that had some great artwork in Old San Juan and was all from local artists.
Somehow, I met another owner of a store as he began talking about the pieces and his favorite ones. The place was busy, so I was surprised he had time, but even more odd was that he asked if I was from Oklahoma.
He had recognized my accent and said I would never figure out how he knew that. I guessed he had family there and he told me the story of how his dad, who was in the air force had been stationed in Oklahoma and found his mother.
Tony, the owner, said that he had been there and loved the state, but was born in Puerto Rico. Often men come to Puerto Rico to find a woman, but in his parents’ case it was the man going to Oklahoma, he said as he gave a chuckle.
We talked for a while and I hot several pieces of artwork. Then I freshened up for dinner and made sure Melina knew fancy was my middle name.
We had a great dinner at Carli’s Bistro and Piano Bar, which was really good. It was also a nice time to get to know one another better. Needless to say, I learned a lot.
It was also a celebration of her accepting a Ph.D. offer to Brandeis University and I could not have been prouder of her. Afterward I went back to my Airbnb and gathered my stuff because Tuesday would be a day full of traveling back home.
This trip taught me a lot and not just about what Puerto Rico had to offer. The family model is becoming more broken as time passes and we are called to love one another. There are no exceptions.
Melina is one of those people who deeply care about that model and I learned that after she told me her parents had divorced. Our family history is similar in many ways, but I am glad to see her make that commitment to keep the family together, which does not just include those who are blood related.
It made me wonder if there was any way I could do better. I hope that by sharing my story of going to the island God will use it to his glory, because the family model is his design for us.