Monday, August 8, 2011

Our Too-Quick Week in Puerto Rico

If we stood out traipsing through DFW pulling primary colored suitcases, you shoulda seen us making our way through the San Juan airport. It was after dark when we landed, and walking out of the rotating doors onto the busting sidewalk, a blanket of wet air lightly enshrouded us, the salt palpable.
It felt good to be on an island.

As we waited for the shuttle to Enterprise, every shuttle other than Enterprise barreled past our  bus stop. Locals wove behind and before us, and we wondered if we were in the right spot, waiting on the right bus. But lo and behold, just a few minutes after the rain began, the green and white Enterprise bus appeared. It was already fairly full, so I was a tiny bit hesitant to climb on, adding six more people and eleven carry-ons (that's right, we traveled to Puerto Rico with only carry-ons).

The passengers seemed unconcerned with our added bounty as we boarded the small bus and continued on to the next stop. A few more people got on, and the young driver didn't notice or care that the luggage area was already at capacity - he managed to cram everyone's bags in without effort, never taking a breath from the fast-paced conversation he held with a buddy at the front of the bus. The seasoned driver wove in and out of Spanish dialogue as deftly as he maneuvered that bus, even through a couple more stops, more people, more bags.
I realized then that making it off that transport with all our bags would be nothing short of a miracle. 

We were all glad to be on the ground, headed to our hotel for the start of our much-anticipated summer vacation, but a slight tension hung in the air of our sorta-crowded rental car as we navigated the San Juan highways at night. Unfamiliar roads, unfamiliar sights - with plenty of familiar ones mixed in. I wasn't surprised by Burger King or Taco Bell, but I have to admit being taken aback when spotting a Sally's Beauty Supply tucked into a shopping center. And a TJ Maxx.

Our good friends in Fort Worth who grew up in Puerto Rico had warned us about the drivers, and they were right on. We had more than one "whew!" incidents on the roads by week's end, including a crazy man on a motorcycle who narrowly averted certain death when he zoomed around us, despite the left blinker signaling Corbin's turn.

My husband got us from airport to rental car to hotel WITH all our luggage, and the Hyatt was a welcome sight. I swam with the kids in warm sprinkling rain while Corbin ran to get milk and cereal and coffee (basic necessities), and he returned with the best pizza we've ever tasted. I don't even remember the name of the local pizzaria, but it was manna from Heaven - with some cheese and bacon thrown in. Clad in swimsuits and dripping wet, we ate straight from the cardboard pizza boxes at a pool side table, shielded under a large Panama Jack beach umbrella. Before heading upstairs around midnight, we ran to the ocean to put our toes in the surf - it's simply an impossibility to go to bed upon arrival without first sticking their toes in the waves!

The rest of our week flew by, escaping too quickly as most vacation days do.
Some things we hope to remember about our week on Dorado beach...

Introducing our children to an island culture - brightly colored homes and buildings, relaxed and simple clothing, the salty air brushing cars and anything metal with rust, loud bird calls, and the landscape bustling with geckos, lizards and iguanas.
Yum! Fresh coconut!
This neon orange guy followed us around while playing miniature golf... he measured about 4' long from head to tail

Essie teaching a 23-year-old Puerto Rican woman how to swim. I watched from a pool chair as they played for a couple of hours in the pool, exchanging smiles with the gal who I thought to be about 16, and afterwards her husband told me - twice - how grateful he was for Esther teaching his wife how to swim. (????!) Then she, in tears, came and told me the same thing. When I asked Esther how she taught her, she said, "I just told her to make big scoops with your arms and kick with your feet."

Our extroverted kids. If we really desire time with our children, we going to have to vacation in a cardboard box. Within hours, they seemed to have taken in everyone at the resort. Our first night in the condo, we sat around our dining table at 9pm for dinner - with eleven-year-old DJ from Massachusetts. Then there was Amanda on the beach, and of course getting to know all the staff. So much so that our children were completely comfortable going into the kitchen (not the restaurant, but the kitchen) to get help from three young waiters to crack open a coconut.

Basden with me, side by side, digging our toes in the sand, and dragging our fingers in circles. Time and time again. We both love, love the feel of the sand on our fingers and toes.
And I love the feel of her right by me.

Old San Juan. Everyone says it's a must. They're right.
Cobblestone streets, tall buildings snuggled side by side... all very European

Incredible El Morro fort, built in early 1600s by Spain, but used recently by Americans in WWII.
Anyone need a cannonball?


Ben & Jerry's in Old San Juan (they got all that $$ we saved by traveling with carry-ons...), and Krispy Kreme with no less than twenty cars in the drive through on any given day. Coconut shrimp and ribs at The Green House.

A perfect beach - big waves for body surfing, and a shady, protected cove with boulders and a coral reef for exploring and discovering crabs, snails, sea urchins, and all kinds of island critters.

Corbin watching our daily checked-out beach towels like a hawk, knowing that we'd be charged a full $25 for any that were unaccounted for. 

Flying like a bird on the Beast (la Bestia). Unbelievable!!
The highest and longest zipline in the world. I got to fly a mile over an expanse of forest, viewing the canyon and it's river from a bird's eye view. Absolutely incredible.
(I'm hoping to receive some emailed photos from Carlos and Antonio, the two men from Spain who braved the Beast right in front of me and were kind to snap a few pics... until then, the mental picture will have to do.)
Ready for action
Hudson skirting across the tree tops
Branson flying high

Corbin - a speck flying over the forest
Basden with a guide - so proud of her!
Me laughing hysterically, on the edge of throwing up from feeling car sick, as we wound around mountain roads looking for the zipline place. It struck me as hilarious that here we were, the six of us shoulder-to-shoulder in a five-person car, maneuvering through a forrested canyon with indiscernible directions, very spotty cell service, having driven around for two 1/2 hours looking for our one-hour-away destination, completely lost in the middle of the Puerto Rico rain forest, no one to stop and ask direction because no one on these roads speak English, crawling one minute as we followed a boy on horseback down a winding road, while dodging crazy drivers before and behind... I don't get to see my husband frustrated very often, but he sure doesn't like feeling out of control. And all I could do was laugh!

Esther telling everyone in the weeks preceding our trip, with no R's, that we were going to PUERTO RICO.
And then last week telling everyone we passed at DFW airport, again with no R's, that we're going to PUERTO RICO.
Then our last night on the beach, arms outstretched wide, she yelled into the ocean, "I love you, SAN ANTONIO."
She didn't need R's for that.


 So many memories, and we've got a couple hundred photos to help us remember. Grateful for our time on this lovely island.
And yes... every one of those buckets belong to us...
Goodbye, San Antonio!