Puerto Rico: Day 4 “Such a Vibrant Thing”

Puerto Rico: Day 4 “Such a Vibrant Thing”

I didn’t want to feel confined to just one section of the city, so I decided to spend my last day-and-a-half in nearby Ocean Park, an upscale neighborhood between OSJ and the airport. No more tours were planned and my trip was coming to an end. Originally, I had booked a second AirBnb, but of course, if you haven’t noticed a pattern of cancellations, something happened with the host and that reservation was cancelled one day prior to the beginning of my escapade. As I sought out a replacement, I saw an ad on the side of the webpage for a site called Hotel Tonight. I had never heard of it, but decided to browse the available listings and booked a room at a small bed and breakfast.

My checkout was at Noon, so I packed my bags in order to allow myself the morning to relax. I had called the B&B the night before just to double-confirm my reservation, and I also booked a massage for the evening.

One of my tour guides had driven me by a restaurant and recommended I go there for breakfast; so that’s what I did. I found La Mallorca on my iphone’s GPS – a 15-minute walk. I had learned that no matter the time of day, it would be warm out, so I filled my bottle with ice cold water and gave myself enough time to saunter on over at my leisure. I strolled down some new streets – as I had not really roamed all over Old San Juan. This part of town near the port, especially Calle San Francisco and Calle del Cristo, had a lot of shops – everything from mom and pop souvenir and jewelry shops to Marshalls, Coach and Pandora. 

I realized I was walking downhill a lot, so it would be a trek to get back to the apartment. 

La Mallorca was a cute, old-fashioned café. There was a bar seating area and square tables throughout the open space. A counter in the front had baked goods on display. I sat at a small, 2-person table by the window. I had a view of the entire dining area, and I could stare out, past Plaza de La Barandilla at the passerbys – people wandering, students going to Carlos Albizu University. The city seemed to be awakening on a typical Monday morning. I ordered a buttered Mallorca and guava juice. The pastry was made fresh, so it took about 15 minutes. I set my phone down and took in the nearby conversations – couples on vacation, locals coming in for a quick bite, a toddler boy running around and momentarily, awkwardly staring at me. I took this time to just breathe and be. The food was tasty and very inexpensive; I spent about $7 for the entire meal. 

It was a beautiful rising – warm but not overwhelmingly hot, clear skies, a gentle breeze. As I approached the apartment door, students from the nearby art institutes were speckled all over Ballaja Plaza, drawing. I went inside, opened the floor-to-ceiling doors to the balcony, turned on some tunes, and sang. I love singing, but I never want to be too loud and “disturb others.” I let my voice carry through the apartment and float out into the park. 

Ten minutes to 12, I requested an Uber, locked up and waited outside. It was about a 15-minute drive to my next lodging. My check-in wasn’t until 3, and my room wasn’t ready, so I dropped off my bags and walked to Calle Loiza to get some lunch. The hotel had recommended two restaurants, but I had read Calle Loiza was a popular street with lots of food and shops, so I just decided to walk there and see what I could find. Well, on a Monday afternoon, pretty much everything is closed. So that’s that. Also, why was I walking around in the early afternoon? I don’t know, but I do know I will never do that again. I was quickly dripping in sweat! I looked gross, haha. I had a location in mind to go to, but after eight minutes, my GPS still said I had another ten or so minutes to walk, and I just could not. I spotted a café that was open and just decided to go there; food is food. 

Much to my surprise, it was a lovely little vegan restaurant called Cocobana. I hadn’t expected to find a place that solely served this cuisine, but it was very clear that this part of town was also going through rapid gentrification. The food was served cafeteria-style. I had arroz al pesto cilantro (cilantro pesto rice), pimiento relleno de quinoa (quinoa stuffed pepper), pasta, and jugó de frutas. It was absolutely delicious and filling. I was too tired to take good pictures. Also, it was funny to note that this place was right across from a McDonald’s.   

I still had a couple of hours until I could check-in, so I called another Uber and took a $5 ride to Calle Cerra in Santurce. This street is most notable for its murals/street art/graffiti. There are several tours you can book, but honestly, this is something you can do on your own unless it’s absolutely imperative that you have someone tell you about every single piece of art. 

My favorite piece, titled You. “This is an artistic depiction of the sound wave vibration of the spoken word, “you.” You is beautiful. Have a look at YOU. Who’s really beautiful? You Are.”

Calle Cerra is home to Santurce Es Ley, an art festival that began as a spontaneous, community art event, that has apparently turned into an international jubilee. “You can just drop me off on the next corner,” I told the driver. “Here?” He asked. “Yep, wherever. I have no destination; you can just pull over… Thanks.”

Santurce is going through redevelopment – I wouldn’t walk through there alone at night, for instance, but in the afternoon, I was fine. I thought it might be difficult to find some of the standout pieces that I had seen online, but it wasn’t at all. I aimlessly walked up and down a few blocks and took in all of the most popular portraits. Around a quarter-past-two, I grabbed another Uber and headed back to the B&B. 

Now, when I booked the room, I wasn’t able to select which of the 12 suites I wanted to stay in. I had browsed their website, and of course there were some rooms I’d prefer over others, but I had to leave it up to chance. I walked past the bright red gate and entered The Dreamcatcher. It was like its own little tranquil world. Lush vegetation lined the small walkway. I could smell incense burning. Elephant, Buddha and Taíno statues gave even more life to the greenery. A small, black bird took a bath in the blue-colored fountain in the courtyard. Amethyst crystals decorated the tables. In the reception area, a poured a cup of water – the jug had bright pink flowers and cucumbers in it. A large, friendly dog roamed the premises. 

I was still a little early, so I took a seat in the courtyard and started reading my book. “Woods?” A woman asked. “Yes.” “Your room is ready. You can get settled, and if you’d like, I can give you a tour.” “Awesome, thank you!” 

My room was unequivocally picturesque! A wooden sliding door opened to a private patio, complete with a hammock and outdoor shower. A comfy queen-sized bed was in the bright, pale-green room – a hand-written welcome note sat atop a set of towels. There was a large walk-in closet and private bathroom (some of the rooms had a shared bathroom, that’s what I had hoped to avoid, haha). 

I glanced inside the gift boutique – definitely browsed because I could not afford the $100 hand-made stone necklaces; to be honest, this place was definitely out of my budget. Hell, this whole place is out of my grad-school-life budget, hahaha. The Sanctuary suite that I was staying in typically goes for about $194 per night, but using the third-party booking site, I got it for $102 – which was about what the Air BnB I had planned on staying in was going for. Love me a good deal! There was an outdoor, shared kitchen, where I had my own shelf in the fridge. “It’s a pescatarian kitchen,” I was told. All of the food served (breakfast/brunch) was vegetarian. In the same area was an in-ground pond filled with turtles. I used to have a pet turtle, so it made me happy to see all the cute, little creatures. I watched and played with them later that evening, while sipping some of the complimentary tea.

“We are living our adventure…”

The concierge and I walked through a huge, wooden and glass door into a lounge – with board and card games, including Cards Against Humanity – and into the dining area. There was a chef’s kitchen, chalkboard with the day’s food offerings, and a mini-fridge with wines and other beverages. “It’s an honor system – you can put cash in the jar for your items, or write down what you took on the clipboard.” Truthfully, the only thing that felt awkward to me about this place was all of the security cameras around the main spaces; so, I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to cheat the “honor system.” 

Once back in my room, I decided to take a shower in the outdoor shower – why use the one inside when I could be free outdoors? I stripped down and walked to the terrace and turned on the water. It was so quiet and relaxing that I could meditate in an unconstrained environment. I cleansed myself in the silence, in my aloneness. It was lovely. 

I moisturized with a body butter from Nelea’s Naturals, dimmed the lights, turned on one of my favorite songs, Muy Tranquilo by Gramatik, and awaited the arrival of the masseuse – for my in-room massage. Shortly after 4:30, I heard a knock on the outer door and welcomed in Yadira. She was a petite, energetic woman with curly, dark hair. “Would you like me to set up outside or in?” She asked. I chose inside. We chatted as she got everything together. “Now, I have like 50 mosquito bites on my body, but I promise they’re just bites,” I warned her. Y’all. Make sure you sleep with mosquito nets. I honestly had 15 bites just on one calf; I looked like the CDC should’ve quarantined me. She used her speakers to continue playing a Gramatik playlist – as I had requested – and I enjoyed an hour-long full body, deep tissue massage. I felt so rejuvenated and at rest by the end of the service. I almost fell asleep by the time we were done. She gave me some exercises to help with the scar tissue in my right wrist from an incident that happened 5 years ago and we hugged as she departed. As I mentioned at the end of Day 2, this was about $80 and was charged to my room’s bill. 

I laid in bed for about 30 minutes, meditating some more. The Afro-Caribbean tour host had texted me information about an event at a nearby location, that would feature bomba! The woman that I had gone to the beach with and I messaged each other and planned to meet that night to check out the live music, so I got up, got dressed and took another Uber to La Terraza de Bonanza. I pulled up to an outdoor space – people were spilling into the street. This was very clearly not a touristy spot, which was pretty cool. I met up with my buddy and we bought shirts from a stand set-up by woman named Wendy, whose merchandise had women-empowerment slogans and celebrated Puerto-Rican heritage. I ordered a few tacos and a rum and coke, and enjoyed the company of my travel friend, talking about love and life, until the music began, close to 9pm. All around, people were dancing – some even got on stage and gave a fabulous show! Oh, how I wish there was some impromptu lesson because I would have loved to join in!

During my cultural tour, we had been reminded that Puerto Ricans are three ethnicities – Taíno, African and Spanish. All around, you could see the different textures and tones that weaved themselves into an eclectic web of really rich, opulent and diverse culture. I much preferred this atmosphere over a club or more touristy venue. This felt like a more authentic nightlife experience. 

My mate and I took an Uber together, back to our places of rest, and I went to bed…

As my trip was coming to an end, I reflected on the peace that I created and moved about in. This was my first real vacation since I entered adulthood – I have traveled or visited friends and family, but I never took a moment to myself to just get away and truly be with myself. I had a sense of freedom that challenged, and proved, how much I can trust myself and what types of experiences I can actualize for my life. I fell so deeply in love with my Self and was proud of all of my growth and accomplishments. I felt energized to willingly move forward with an elevated quality of assuredness. In accordance with the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, I am confidently lost

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