Published: November 26th 2009November 26th 2009
Tuesday we headed to downtown Ponce to see what was available there. It was a cute little town with some old neighborhood streets with older Puerto Rican architecture. We stumbled upon a restaurant called Rincon Argentino—an Argentinean restaurant known for its meat. I got grilled shrimp with rice and beans, since I don’t eat pork or red meat, but it was delicious just the same. And the caramel crepes we shared for dessert were the best thing we’ve eaten on this trip so far (food has generally been a great disappointment).
We then made the drive back to San Juan, only about an hour and a half from Ponce. But driving here is a bit harrowing. People tend to be leisurely even on the highways, but more often than not change lanes without signaling or pull out in front of you at intersections. And driving up and down the steep hills to cut through to the northern part of the island was a bit stressful.
We arrived at our hotel in San Juan—a Rennaissance called La Concha (the hotel restaurant sits under a large conch-like shell). We never stay at such luxurious places, but we happened to see a commercial several months ago advertising buy 2 nights get 2 free, so the rooms worked out to be half price. Recession-busters pricing, I suppose. The hotel is beautiful, sitting right on the beach at the end of a section called Condado. The entire lobby floor is open air, and there are lots of little pools, lounge chairs/couches/beds, a posh bar with modern furniture, art, and neon lights, and lounge music pulsating all hours of the day. Our little section of beach overlooks the blue/green water and a little outcropping of rocks where people get in their morning walk or run. Our room also looks directly at the ocean, so you get to wake up to the sounds and sights of Caribbean waves. There is also an interesting mix of people here—several gay couples, some American families, some Puerto Rican men who appear to be here on business, even some older couples.
But so far San Juan itself has been a disappointment. While we have not yet ventured into Old San Juan, the newer section is lacking a “scene.” There is not really a strip with restaurants, shops, or bars. There is a Cartier and a Louis Vuitton across the street, but in between that and the closest restaurant are rundown buildings spray painted with graffiti. We were expecting to eat fabulous Puerto Rican food and to dance a little salsa or stop by a reggaeton club, but so far there is nothing like that around. And it’s not even an area that you really want to explore all that much after dark. We’re hoping that when we go to Old San Juan tomorrow we will find a little more of what we were looking for. But it becomes ever more apparent that Puerto Rico truly is a poor country—60% of its people live below the U.S. level of poverty. It’s starting to make sense why so many Puerto Ricans leave the island for the U.S.—probably hoping for better job opportunities. Ken and I have a little tradition of taking a week of vacation over Thanksgiving each year. This year we said we wanted to keep our money within the U.S. because of the economy—do our little bit to stimulate it. I think we picked a great area to do so.
With today being Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about what it is I am thankful for. The last year of my life has not been easy with the job situation, health issues, and family issues such as the death of an aunt, a grandmother who underwent massive brain surgery, and now an uncle who survived a heart attack just two days ago. More days than not my mood has not been good, and I struggle to drag myself to work everyday.
But there is still a lot for which to be thankful. Despite the economy, we were still able to take vacations—to the Outer Banks, Puerto Rico, and me to Vancouver. I watched my brother and one of my closest friends get married. Two other sets of very close friends are welcoming babies into their lives—one couple recently had a set of twins, and the other is due in April. We’ve been planning a wedding of our own that will be very small and simple but still allow us to celebrate our commitment to one another. And despite my health not being great and new medications not giving me complete relief, I am still able to do many things that most people in the world only dream about even in the best of health. And as for the job situation, even though I dread coming into contact with my supervisor and am not sure where I will be 9 months from now, I still have an income and benefits in the meantime and have already received interest from schools trying to fill professor positions. I’ve also got the government paying back almost half of my school loans and have started to build a retirement fund!
So really, despite being disappointed with how things have turned out over the past year, life is very good. As I’m rounding out my late 20s (turning 29 in a couple weeks!), I’m starting to realize that life is a series of ebbs and flows. Things are not always going to be new and exciting and hopeful and fantastic. And that’s okay. If it were not for the down times, how would we come to appreciate the good times? Maybe in the future each ebb will not seem as devastating or hopeless. And when the flow returns, I can savor it even more.