Wednesday, 28 May 2014

In San Juan

When the pilot, shortly after take-off from New York, announced a smooth flight, I expected a rather rough ride and that it was. In San Juan it was pouring and I learned that this day's rainfall had been the worst since 1917. My hotel had no power but I was lucky: the one next door had.

Irena is 27, has two kids aged 11 and 9, and works in a Condado beauty parlour. "I'm not Puertorican", she says, "I'm Dominican." A remarkable sense of identity that baffled me for she had arrived in Puerto Rico at the age of two and spent all her life here.
Puerto Rico has no public transport to speak of and since I did not feel like renting a car I decided to go on an organised day trip. The other participants were a friendly couple about my age from Martinique, another couple, slightly older and very white, from Colombia, and three overweight, heavily tattooed black ladies from New York who during the whole trip didn't take their eyes off their cell phones. "Listen", shouted the one next to me into her phone, "I'm sitting in a car and can't really talk to you. Just look into all the bags." After a pause of about half a minute, she continued: "I said just look into all the bags. Now which part you don't understand?"

One of the sights we were going to visit was El Yunque National Park. On our way through the park we stopped only once on a bridge, stepped out of the car, looked at a totally unremarkable river ... and that was it ...

An additional remark to public transport: there are some urban buses and when I have plenty of time I take one of them. They do not run according to a timetable and waiting for over an hour is considered nothing out of the ordinary. The other day, a heavily overweight guy squeezed himself in the seat next to mine so that half of his weight came to rest on my left thigh. It was with difficulty that I managed to set myself free again. When I finally succeeded, the man said: I can't help it. I was not sure whether he was referring to his weight or to his almost crushing me to death, and so I decided to say nothing.
At first glance it seemed to be like this: in Condado, the tourist area, I was addressed in English, in Sagrado, a not so posh neighbourhood, people spoke to me in Spanish. It was not how people perceived me that decided in what language I was spoken to, it was the place. Or so I thought but then I started to become aware of something else: when I didn't shave for a few days I was everywhere greeted in Spanish ...

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