By no means am I an avid globetrotter. At this point in my life I have not yet had the opportunity to do much traveling. Last spring however I spent a week in Puerto Rico with my mother. This small island in the Atlantic is technically a part of the United States, but upon stepping off the plane you can easily imagine you’re in another country.
The first thing you notice upon leaving the cramped confines of the craft you flew in on is a wall of warm, muggy air. Then you notice the language. Most Puerto Ricans speak English, but Spanish is also widely spoken. Looking at signs and hearing announcements in another language can be disconcerting; I’ve taken five years of Spanish and I still felt a little uneasy. Most things look the same: the cars, the buildings, and even the restaurants, but when you look closer it becomes clear how different they are from the things you know back home. Walking into a McDonald’s in another country is almost a surreal experience; you can still recognize it for what it is but there are significant differences.
The culture of Puerto Rico is also different from that of the United States. The way people acted, and interacted was different from what I was used to. People seemed much more relaxed, and unconcerned compared to what I was used to. There wasn’t a lot of hurry, or rush to get anywhere. I quickly learned to appreciate and love their way of life.
Like the culture, the island of Puerto Rico is also beautiful. Due to its small size I was able to see much of it during my stay. We started off on the beaches and I got to see the ocean for the first time. I feel in love with it instantly and was overjoyed when I realized that one of our hotels was literally fifteen feet from the gently crashing waves. From the coast my mother and I traveled inwards, to the center of the island to walk through the rain forest, El Yunque. After risking life and limb to drive up a twisty, narrow road we reached the start of the hiking trails. It took a few hours, but eventually we made our way to the highest point on the island; the view was amazing. I could see the coast line in the distance, a narrow ribbon butting up against the ocean.
Probably the most memorable experience for me was the night we visited MosquitoBay, off the coast of Vieques- a smaller island near Puerto Rico. The hour long ferry ride to get to Vieques was in itself an adventure, but the Bay was unforgettable; it is one of the few places in the world where you can see the phenomenon of bioluminescence. Late at night you go out on a boat and if you’re brave enough to get in the water you can see a pale glow where ever you move. Everything appears to glow and on occasion you can see fish swimming by in the darkness, softly illuminated.
The final days I spent in Puerto Rico were in Old San Juan. We stayed in a small guesthouse, not the most glamorous location but very affordable. The history of the city was rich, going back centuries to when the Spanish first arrived on the island and constructed several forts. You can spend hours walking through the narrow, crowded streets, and while you might feel a little overwhelmed you will never feel bored.
I spent a lot of time on the plane ride home looking at the photos I had taken during the week. It was then that I fully realized how diverse the little island was. Not only is the culture vibrant and different, there is a little something for everyone, from the shopaholic, to the history buff, to the rugged outdoorsman.
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