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Published On: Wed, Oct 27th, 2010

My Love Affair with Puerto Rico

 

My Love Affair with Puerto Rico

by Casinera in DC
Jennifer González
casineraindc@gmail.com
http://salsacasinoindc.blogspot.com

Pr1 After the applause of landing in Puerto Rico had died down, I looked out my window. Palm Trees. Sunshine. The blue/green waters of the ocean. I could already feel the humidity and wondered why I thought it was a good idea to wear jeans. Oh that's right, it was like 30 degrees back in Virginia. Not here. Not on La Isla del Encanto. As we slowly gathered our luggage I felt scared. Nervous. This was my first trip to Puerto Rico and many thoughts were racing through my mind. Would I understand anyone? Would my husband's family like me? Would I like the food? Would I like the food too much and get fat? As we settled into the rental car I was put at ease with Z93 playing the best salsa – something I could relate to having recently started salsa dancing and learning the music!


As we drove from the airport to Condado I felt the love rushing in and me giving into it. Some might be  

tempted to think "This place is a dump!" as they bypass a few of the "caserios" leaving the airport. Graffiti. Bars on windows. Neighborhoods where you just know that unless you live there – you're not welcome. That didn't matter to me. I saw the character. I saw painted walls with famous Puerto Rican salsa singers. I felt at home immediately. Like any good love story, this one too has a beginning…

Pr2 My husband grew up mostly in New Jersey and Connecticut. He only lived in Puerto Rico for about three-four years during which time his family had little money so they did not see the island. His true introduction to his own homeland came during our honeymoon. We stayed in Bayamon, but mi cuñado (affectionately known on the island as Pedrosky) played tour guide and took us to Fajardo, Boquerron, Coamo, Ponce, and more! It was the most mi esposo had seen of his homeland since being born. For 10 days we played tourist. 


His brother hitched up his boat and we were off to Boqueron. At the time it was a sleepy beach town on the South West corner of the island and it’s where I learned to snorkel. I saw a dolphin as it flew by our boat. I learned to relax in the water. I felt alive for the first time in many years. We took a side trip to Ponce and saw El Parque de Bombas – the first fire station in Puerto Rico. We stayed and took the bioluminescence tour in Salinas that evening after eating some monfongo. I couldn’t get enough! Later in the week my husband and I went to Luquillo beach east of San Juan near Carolina. Perfect. The water is beautiful, calm, and if it is too hot don’t worry – it will rain at least once every hour for just a few minutes. Ask any Puerto Rican and they will tell you that Luquillo is a special place.


Pr3 As we traveled the island, I saw plants and trees I had never seen before! I felt foolish getting out of the car
to take a photo but figured I could play tourist just this one. I tried and tasted food that we do not have here in the States. ohhh…Speaking of the food…let me tell you! I have a love/hate relationship with the food. Some of the island favorites are pasteles, monfongo, morcilla, alcapurrias. None of those are my favorite. I would venture to say that they are all an acquired taste and if you don’t grow up on it chances are you won’t like them. Much of the food in Puerto Rico is made from plantains – ripe or not ripe. Pastelón, tostones, maduros – they are all very yummy and to my liking. But the others are just not my favorite and are served everywhere. It is also common to see a pig on a spit roasting in some little hole in the wall cafe on the side of the road. If my husband sees one it’s pretty much an automatic stop to grab a bite. Again – not my favorite. What is? Habichuelas con arroz blanco (rice and beans). Asopao (like a stew). Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). And quesitos. Oh quesitos. To my surprise there are many Puerto Ricans that haven't tried one. They are a puff pastry with like a cream cheese in the middle with a sweet glazing and to eat one along with cafe con leche is absolutely heavenly to me.

Now where was I before food interrupted my thoughts? Oh yes. Falling in love with the island. Our travels also took us to where my husband's family lives. Naranjito. This is not your normal tourist spot. It is up in the mountains and off the beaten path a bit but that is what makes it magical. We drove to where my husband’s father’s side of the family grew up (Barrio Dajao, Bayamon) and from that point you can see all of San Juan. At night it is like looking down on millions of stars.

Pr5 We go to visit all the Tias individually so that they can all cook for us (and of course that means we have to eat too). What is it like to visit Tias in Puerto Rico? The first Tia we visited will explain. We called Tia T. and she said, "Oh we just got in from New Jersey but please come by!" My husband replied with, "Ok but please do not cook. It isn't necessary." We proceeded to grab a bite to eat before arriving. Big mistake! She had cooked a feast! I do not remember everything but I was amazed. Needless to say, they rolled us down the mountains. Best dinner ever! As we visited other family, my head would hurt attempting to keep up with the Spanish. The excitement, the accents, the almost-shouting was too much for me to understand with my limited Spanish but I left feeling loved regardless.


As you fall in love there is always that one thing that seals the deal…when you know you'll never fall out of love again. For me it was being able to witness and be a part of a Patronale festival in Loiza. These festivals are held in each city on weekends and are in honor of different saints. These festivals show you the life of the city. And honestly, my favorite part is that quite often you have the opportunity to see incredible salsa bands for free (I have seen Jerry Rivera, El Gran Combo, and Sonora Ponceña). You are able to taste the culture of Puerto Rico through food and drink. My goal is to visit and attend Ponce's festival one of these years as I hear it is one of the best! 

Over the past 11 years, I have been to Puerto Rico numerous times. I feel confident now in shopping (ay, los zapatos!), eating, visiting places and conversing (more or less) with family!  My husband even introduces me with pride by saying, “She is more Puerto Rican than me now.” and that is a wonderful compliment! When you spend time with your lover you never want it to end and for me it is no different. I miss Puerto Rico every day.

Here are some of my favorite places to help you fall in love with the island too!

Restaurant: La Bombonera in Old San Juan (http://www.visit-the-coqui.com/2009/07/la-bombonera-old-san-juan/)

Beach: Luquillo (http://www.puertorico.com/beaches/luquillo/)

Recreational Area: El Yunque (http://www.elyunque.com/)

Shopping: Plaza Las Americas (http://www.visit-the-coqui.com/2009/07/la-bombonera-old-san-juan/)

Foods to try: quesitos, sorullos, monfongo, maduros, tostones, bacalaitos, jugo de parcha.

 

  • Jennifer,
    I think your review of your visit to Puerto RIco was very sincere. On my side I was born here and had to sadly live more years than I would have liked in the U.S. (don’t take it wrong). I use to come to Puerto Rico (when I was 2 till I was 12) every summer and would not want to leave back to Connecticut.
    I have not been able to leave the Island because it is full of opportunity and great things I could not find elsewhere.
    On the food side I can relate to. Being vegetarian on the island is my biggest challenge. Puertorican food is so instilled in our culture so people might have trouble understanding that you don’t consume meat products.
    In the future make sure to ask the locals about the Bombonera it is full of history but it has also a bad reputation for not being the cleanest place to eat.
    I hope you visit the Island soon.

  • Thanks Raul! I appreciate the feedback. And I’m quite sure there are many restaurants out there that aren’t so clean…. 🙂 I can’t imagine being a vegetarian there. That must be hard! Hopefully I’ll get to visit again soon…it has been a year since I was last there and that is too long!

My Love Affair with Puerto Rico