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Romance à la Crème

A neutral, creamy romance with life.

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HOME TO PUERTO RICO



On a beautiful island far away from the chaos of New York lives the people of Puerto Rico. My people. I booked this trip almost a year ago. I had anticipated the most amazing things to come from this trip. I'd grown homesick for an island I hadn't seen since I was a baby. I grew up hearing wonderful things about the island. I heard stories about my family, especially my grandmother. I heard about how romantic Viejo San Juan is at night. I dreamt of the culture of San Juan. The similarities and differences between San Juan and New York appreciate both sides of my world.

On July 21, I boarded a plane alone for the first time ever. It was all nerve-wracking. In fact, it was the first time I had been on a plane since I was a baby. I had mix emotions about it. After all, I am not the biggest fan of heights. The moment I planted my butt into the seat, the nerves went away. It felt natural to be on a plane. During takeoff, I had my eyes glued out the window. I couldn't believe my eyes. If you've been on a plane or have seent the pictures of the clouds up close, you will understand. I spent the next four hours in awe of the moments spent in the sky. How can something as beautiful as the summer sky exist? I was taken out of the trance when we had landed. It was a smooth one. It was time I experience Puerto Rico.

My gracious cousin let me stay with her for my week-long stay. Prima, if you're reading this, te amo. The moment she pulled up to the airport, I knew it was her. The family resemblance is there. She looks like my mom but darker. She's been kissed by the sun. We all resemble each other in more ways than one. I hugged her tight for a minute. Neither of us wanted to let go but we were being ushered out.  

As we drove through Carolina and San Juan to get to where she lived, I pictured all the things I wanted to do. The first stop is a tropical beach. I had to put my feet in the sand. Maybe get a picture near all the colorful buildings and see the castle that helped defend our beautiful island hundreds of years ago.

Upon arrival, I ran to the palm tree in front of her house and hugged it. I giggled. Yes, I looked crazy. No, I didn't care. At first, she was confused but I clarified why I had done what I had done. First, I hadn't seen a palm tree in person until that moment. Second, it had hit me that I was actually home in Puerto Rico. I made it after wanting to return back to where it had begun. Dreams do come true.

While staying with my family, I managed to lose myself amongst the people and within the culture of Puerto Rico. I walked through Guaynabo, San Juan, Viejo San Juan, Carolina, Cantaño, and Santurce. I tend to be a lone wolf when it comes to traveling. I like to get lost and experience things spontaneously and by chance. That's exactly what I did. I spent time every day to get to know the place where three generations and maybe, even more, spent running around during their childhood. I learned how to travel around by foot in a day. I felt like a local.

My favorite part of the trip was going to Viejo San Juan and protesting. #RickyRenuncia was trending before my arrival. My family told me to stay out of that part of the city because it was dangerous. Of course, a very curious me didn't listen. I went straight to Viejo San Juan. I wanted to see the beautiful, historic buildings. The colors are so vibrant and show off Puerto Rican culture. Every twist and turn through the streets of Viejo San Juan made me even more excited to take another step. Calle La Fortazelais a very famous street. It's perfect for Instagram photos. The street was one of the streets blocked by protesters. I had stumbled on this protest by mistake. I wanted to see the umbrellas. I knew that Puerto Rican wanted the governor out. One of the locals told me all of the corrupt things he had done. I was sold. I protested for two days with my fellow Puerto Ricans. That was one of the biggest highlights of my trip. The governor resigned on my second night protesting. Mission accomplished.

While in Viejo San Juan, I also managed to see the Castillo San Felipe del Morro which is a fort that protected Puerto Rico during wartime. The place is massive. It's a museum now and the people of Puerto Rico allows tourist and any other guest to get an in-depth visit. Fair warning: there are a lot of stairs. There were times I was creeped out by certain areas. The place is beautiful nonetheless and I'd recommend anyone to visit.

Another place I visited in Viejo San Juan that isn't really recommended by anyone is La Perla. You may know La Perla from Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" music video. La Perla is a very poor neighborhood in Viejo San Juan that has a terrible history. In the past, people had been robbed, gone missing and never seen or heard from again, and killed in this neighborhood. In fact, everyone warns foreigners, whether you are a Puerto Rican or not, to stay clear. When I walked through the neighborhood, I got to see all of the places shown in the Despacito video. I went to the local bar in La Perla to have a couple of drinks. I even spoke with locals who had talked to me about the bad wrap the neighborhood has and how much better it had gotten over the years. I had a good experience in La Perla. I loved the scenery and how humble the people were. Let's be clear about one thing: I am NOT telling anyone to go there or recommend a visit there. I am simply talking about my trip.

In case I wasn't clear before, San Juan and Viejo San Juan are two different neighborhoods. Viejo San Juan is the historic district whose architecture hasn't been modernized by tall buildings and city life. San Juan is a more modern-day neighborhood with many five star hotels on one strip. San Juan is another beautiful part of the island. I spent my birthday eating at one of my favorite restaurants called Serafina. I heard that there is a location in Puerto Rico and jumped at the opportunity to eat there. Happy Birthday to me! I ate there for my birthday. I love pasta. Why not?

I also managed to spend a lot of time in Condado beach and sneaking into a local hotel for guest perks like using the bathroom and a choice between cooled or heated towels. Then I'd run across the street to Starbucks, which didn't have a bathroom, for summery drinks. I managed to find my way from Santurce to San Juan on foot. I feel proud of getting to know more about my roots and the island itself. By the end of my trip, I managed to know how to travel by foot through this beautiful island the way I know New York. I even managed several walking trips to Walmart.

I spent a lot of time with the part of the family I was able to meet when I was there. It turns out there's a lot more family that I haven't met yet. My great grandmother, who is still alive, had fifteen children. My great grandfather, who passed away some time ago, had some more of his own. I was more than happy to meet the cousins that I did meet. One of my cousins drove me to Cantaño with his wife and grandson. I got to sit on the docks with my feet in the water. They showed me a great place to eat which was packed with people. Upon my return to the house, I found out that I missed my uncle whom I hadn't seen since I was a child. There's no way he'd ever see this, but tio Michelangel, te extraño. Hopefully, I'll be able to see him on my next visit.

I spent seven days diving deep into an island, its people, and my family history. I learned a lot, I experience a lot. When I arrived at the airport in Carolina, I cried. I didn't want to say goodbye even if it was temporary. I went home to where it all began for me and where it ended for my grandmother. I got to meet my cousin who I've nicknamed Loca. I ate some authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. I managed to be a lone wolf this trip and gain memories for a lifetime. Now that I've been back home, I plan on going back as often as I can. I may be back sooner than I think.


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