About a week and a half ago, I had the absolute and immense pleasure of visiting Puerto Rico. The main reason for my visit was to celebrate my grandmother's, Mami as I affectionately call her, 80th birthday. My younger brother visited along with his wife and 3 boys. My mom was there and other family members who flew to Puerto Rico to celebrate. I will be making a separate blog post about that.
Puerto Rico is a home away from home, sort of. I grew up on St. Croix, just a hop and a skip away from Puerto Rico BUT I have vivid memories of spending loads of summers on Puerto Rico. My mom would send me over every summer along with my younger brother. Those were the days.
I have memories of visiting Old San Juan, Rio Piedras, Plaza Las Carolinas, Plaza Las Americas, going to the beach and just playing around in the neighborhood with the other kids who became my summer friends. So, it was wonderful going back to Puerto Rico after 13 years or so. I'm guesstimating there. The point is, it was a very long time since I last was in Puerto Rico. Oh, and you can't count 1/2 hour to 1 hour layovers at the airport.
Even though, I've spent countless summers in Puerto Rico, when I visited a few weeks ago, I was in tourist mode. It was an experience that I will never forget.
First of all, the driving in Puerto Rico is ridiculously crazy. The people drive like there's no tomorrow and there are no road rules but you can get used to that. What was horrible was trying to find our way to different places. We got "turned around" (a nice term for getting lost) so many times! The whole time I was yelling "I'm not every coming back to Puerto Rico!" It was fun, full of adventure yet frustrating. While I will always remember this, this certainly was not the highlight of my trip.
The highlight of my trip was celebrating my grandmother's and my brother's birthday. We celebrated my brother's birthday by going around to different places, window shopping and sight seeing. My brother was insistent on going to Viejo San Juan - Old San Juan. El Viejo San Juan is such an idyllic place. Though it was busy and the streets were lined with tourists going in and out of shops, the city held an old world charm. The atmosphere still held airs of the past. You could see it in the architecture, the cobble stone lined streets and the monuments erected to celebrate local heroes.
We visited El Parque de las Palomas while in Viejo San Juan. We went there more for the children but found ourselves pleasantly surprised with what we discovered. Along the pavement of this park, there were old, bronzed and cemented shoes that belonged to folks.
As I walked along finding all these shoes and their placement, I began wondering who these people were. Why did they leave their shoes behind? Did they visit the park often? Was the park their sanctuary? Who were they? I suspect we'll never really know but knowing that a piece of them was left behind is enough to deepen the mystery and keep visitors intrigued.
This was the most interesting piece of the park, to me.
Of course, I had to find out what the shoes meant. I couldn't just leave it at that. I'm intrigued by mysterious things such as these. There are two versions to the story.
In the first one, I was told that the first bronzed shoes were those of a grandfather and his grandson who would visit the park often to feed the birds. The rest of the shoes were put there because patrons of the park didn't want the government to get rid of it, so they started leaving the shoes as a way saying please keep the park.
In the second version, the shoes were ordered to be placed there by a former female mayor of San Juan to honor the first female mayor of San Juan and a former governor. Both of the honorees worked to help the poor and would provide shoes for those who couldn't afford them. The shoes were placed at the park to honor both mayor and governor and to serve as a reminder of their work for the poor.
I like both versions but the grandfather and grandson is much sweeter. In my mind, I could see a grandfather so in love with his little grandson and taking him on Sunday strolls to the park, feeding the birds and talking about life. Very idyllic sounding.
Another intriguing attraction that I saw was the Capilla del Santo Cristo de la Salud - Chapel of Christ the Savior. It was just tucked right next to el Parque de las Palomas, open to the public. I find it fascinating how in the midst of a busy street and park, there's a little area that's sacred and serves as a respite for a weary soul. When I entered, there was a sense of calm and peace that came over me. I love little chapels like that and treat them with reverence and respect. My brother found it very creepy looking though. lol
I took some pictures of some other things but they didn't turn out well. However, I did manage to snag a photo of one of my favorite treats on the island, el helado. I don't know what it's called in English. The only thing I can say it's like is gelato. It's not ice cream but it's a cold treat on a hot summer day. I remember eating these as a child and they were oh so yummy. My favorite has always been the coconut flavored one. Mmmm...
Of course, you can't visit a city as old and cultural as el Viejo San Juan without bumping into a sax player. He sounded great too.
Oh and I decided to take a picture with me and some guy. Look, he even offered me flowers, how sweet. :-)
All in all, I had a wonderful time in Puerto Rico. It was a much needed vacation. I missed my boys, all four of them but was happy to have had that time away for myself.
BTW, if you managed to make it to the end of this blog post, a big fat
for reading it all the way through and a big fat
I know that I can be long winded when telling a story or sharing something, lol