Friday, December 20, 2013


The first thing we did in Puerto Rico, after dropping off our luggage at the hotel, was walk the couple miles into Old San Juan to take the ferry to the Bacardi factory. This should maybe serve as some sign to you, intelligent reader who can pick up on such things, of where this story and where this trip might be headed. We drank more than the two free drinks they give you. The bartender didn't really seem to care too much about collecting these drink tickets they give you for going on this tour. The tour was really boring. We quickly headed back across the water to Old San Juan.

We stopped in a couple bars, wandered up and down beautiful old colonial streets, and I, at least, was absolutely awed by the beautiful colors all the houses were painted, the bright blue sky behind this tableau. 

At one of these bars, we ordered a round of Medallas. Maybe you know how to say that. Maybe you don't. Apparently, it took me the entire time we were in Puerto Rico to get the pronunciation right. I had just landed. I hadn't really used my elementary Spanish skills on this trip yet and was pronouncing those L's. The bartender at El Batey, a grizzled old punk, corrected me, laughing at my pronunciation. Ma-die-ah!

We watched the sunset from the top of an old Spanish fort, ate some dinner, and then headed back to our hotel in Condado, drank some more, then walked to the Santurce neighborhood. We hung out in La Placita, enjoying all the people drinking in the streets, dancing to the sounds of salsa bands spilling out of bars. I was still saying it wrong. The bartenders here for some reason were set on this one beer being pronounced correctly. No one ever corrected me with all of the other Spanish words I surely butchered on this trip, but everyone would quickly correct my saying of Medalla, no matter how correctly I thought I was finally saying it.

We went to some gay bars, all of them fantastic in their own way, great views into another place and how things work, how gays live. I ordered rum drinks at most of these places, but when I would order Medellas, again I was corrected. A hunky bartender at Circo laughed when I ordered them, and said the word exactly how I thought I had said it.

There was time spent on the beach. There was a drive through El Yunque, the rainforest. We took the ferry from Fajardo to Culebra. I had never felt sea sick before; I didn't know how miserable a feeling it was. Now, I know. A good half the passengers on the ferry, the tourists mainly, all looked green. People all around were reaching for seasick bags. I put on Kurt Vile, put my head down as far it would go, and did my best to imagine I did not feel like throwing up, that my insides were not being violently tossed up and down my throat. 

The island was gorgeous, a sparsely inhabited little piece of paradise in the Caribbean. I also learned that I like densely inhabited run-down urban spaces much more on this trip. I went snorkeling, saw many bright fishes winding their way through coral, which, you know, is a sight you are not going to see too often in your life, and I was probably most happy during this moment, alone in the water, unable to hear anyone other than my own breathing, taking in the sights of an underwater world as I swam far out along some cliffs and down to a different beach. 

Our last day in Culebra, some white bartender, tried correcting me when I ordered some Medallas, telling me it was Ma-DELL-ahs. No. I didn't tell him how wrong he was. I was over being corrected, especially by some American ex-pat who decided to lead the Jimmy Buffet life and run away to some island - like seemingly much of the population of Culebra.

We drove back from the ferry in Fajardo to San Juan, stopping in Pinones, a gritty collection of ramshackle food stands along the beach outside San Juan. I ordered some chicken and some Medallas. The waitress, who only spoke Spanish (such a nice change of things after being in Culebra where everyone spoke English and where most people probably only spoke it), did not correct my pronunciation. I had been waiting for it to come, expecting it, it having become a part of ordering this beer for me. When she didn't correct me, I asked her how it was said. I wanted to to be sure. She said I was correct, and pronounced it the same way. Finally. Success with the last beers I ordered in Puerto Rico before flying back home, to New York.

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