“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
Our travel day started at 3:30am in Oakland, California and ended at 12am in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico...but we made it! Including the time zone changes we traveled 14 hours. Despite being exhausted, we were also energized with the excitement of being in a new place and didn’t let our fatigued bodies and (overworked) minds stop us after we checked into our hotel room. We decided to celebrate our successful journey with drinks and salsa, although we knew this decision was going to affect our morning and it did...we slept in until 11! Not to worry though, we were able to explore almost all of Old San Juan in one day.
One of our goals for this trip is to learn from Puerto Rico’s culture. We want to befriend locals and see what their lives are like — but of course we want to see the historical and tourist places as well. We hit the ground running (and rolling!) on both fronts. On our flight from JFK to San Juan a local recommended Café El Punto. This is where we encountered our first accessibility issue. We knew accessibility was going to be an challenge especially in a city that was built over 400 years ago. I struggle with wanting equal access but I also understand how the world worked many centuries ago. Changing 400-year-old civil engineering and architecture is difficult and very expensive. The staff pulled out ramps and I was in the dining area in no time. The food, ceviche, avocado, and mango juice, was fresh and delicious.
Our server was wonderful as was the owner who stopped by our table after our food was served. He mentioned his restaurant was a top 10 favorite for locals and tourists!
Everything in Old San Juan is in walking distance or should I say rolling distance to include my fellow chair users. We pulled out our cameras because the next stop put us in pure tourism bliss. We explored Fuerte Castillo Felipe Del Morrow. I was able to use my National Parks Access pass to enter the park for free.
The fort was built by the Spanish in the 16th century and was surprisingly accessible. There were a few areas that I wasn’t able to see but I saw enough to get the full experience.
After the fort Emily and I separated for a while. She went to explore an inaccessible cemetery and I rolled around the neighborhood looking at street art. I think it’s important in a relationship to have alone time. I also think it’s okay for your partner to experience the world even if its parts of the world you can’t experience yourself. I’ve been paralyzed for over 10 years and it took me many years to come to this understanding.
Street art in Old San Juan is interesting. Neighborhoods are similar neighborhoods in the states that are being gentrified. Most street art is painted on homes that are’nt taken care of or abandoned, probably some due to Maria’s destruction.
Emily and I planned to meet back up to see the Cathedral de San Juan Bautista. Religion isn’t for me but I still appreciate the good in it. This Cathedral is the oldest in the United States and the second oldest in America. The architecture was beautiful but the vibes were a little strange.
I try my best to not let my biased beliefs control my experience but I can’t help to feel the darkness behind religion more than the beautiful relief it provides people. The colonial legacy and forced conversion of the natives isn’t a pleasant thought but it is history and worth remembering.
We were feeling a little tired at this point and luckily our hotel is across from the cathedral so we went back to the room to rest.
We knew our day wasn’t over but we needed to refuel if we wanted to make it through the night. Emily searched the interwebs for another local favorite restaurant while I worked on my travel day blog. I don’t know how she finds these places but she was able to find one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. It wasn’t only amazing food, the décor and service were astonishing. They are a farm-to-table restaurant and everything was either grown or raised locally on the island. We enjoyed lamb, tuna, kale, and of course fresh squeezed juice! I try not to explain something by calling it art but this experience was true art. Everything was perfect except the bathroom door not locking. That’s a story for anther day. If you’re in Old San Juan you have to visit Verde Mesa.
Some people (Emily) call me a beer snob and it doesn’t bother me one bit. I know what’s good and I appreciate it. Craft brewing is the latest fad in American culture and a few gents from Chicago have taken the vibe to Old San Juan. I’m talking about La Taberna Lupulo a taproom with an American vibe that serves local beers. We choose an IPA and Lager that were most delicious. The atmosphere was very similar to some of my favorite breweries back home but the only difference was Puerto Ricans surrounded me.
The United States is the melting pot where people from all over the world come to make dreams comes true. It was interesting to see things turned around. It was actually inspiring. Puerto Rico’s economy needs you. If you have a dream of owning your own business, making great money, contributing to society all while enjoying the life you want to live, go to Puerto Rico now.
Our night ended with drinking a bottle of wine in bed while watching the US midterm elections. Did you know Puerto Rico is a part of the United States but they have a serious lack of representation? No presidential voting rights, no state senator representation and 1 congressman but the congressman can’t vote. Puerto Rico still has elections but only for there own issues. Here’s the most interesting part of this: Puerto Rico’s voter turnout is far higher than any state in the United States. They can join the US military and have to follow US laws but sadly are treated like the red headed stepchild. This makes me appreciate my right to vote. I won’t tell you what to vote for but I encourage you to vote for what you believe in because you have the opportunity that others are dreaming of.