Land Ahead! Puerto Rico and My Great Expectations
“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”
― Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
The funny thing about expectations is they almost always disappoint. Not to be confused with ideals or goals, expectations often assume we know the behavior of others or places. We assume they will act according to our own sense of history and being. And while I try not to expect anything from the places I travel and the people I meet, shaking off one owns projections is a daily struggle. So here is the thing about Puerto Rico – I expected it to be different. But, let’s start with how I got there.
Originally the plan was to stay in the Dominican Republic for three weeks but when staying on a sailboat you go where the wind and seas take you, at the time determined by only them. So, off to Puerto Rico we went! I have sailed before as a child up and down the coast of New England and am accustom to overnight sailing but, there was always land very near. Here, we would be crossing through open waters on a 26 hours journey from island to island. I couldn’t wait! If you have never night sailed or sailed at all for that matter I highly recommend it. At night I find especially powerful the feeling of helplessness. Sure, the coastguard is out there somewhere but really when you cannot see the wind, the waves, or even the clouds you finally grasp the feeling that you are only a small collection of atoms in an inconceivable world. Now, I know that may sound a little to0 nirvana-esq but feeling at the mercy of mother nature is actually a pretty freeing experience.
Okay, so after 26 hours of amazement sprinkled with nerves and very little sleep the sun came up and soon there was land on the horizon. At first, you have to wonder if this is how one feels in a desert. You are not quite sure if it is land or a wave, but stare hard enough and move a bit closer and sure enough the greens of Puerto Rico start popping up! After finding an anchor spot and sleeping for several hours I made my way to land to what looked like a small fishing village. The cove itself (Puerto Real) used to be an old Slave Ship Port but any sense of that history had long since been sold away with the construction of newer homes, small restaurants, and a few convenience stores. As a lover of learning and in particular history I was disappointed the areas history was not peeking through.
Expectation 0: Reality 1
After securing a rental car we drove to a mall and on the way we passed Home Depot, Cold Stone (which I definitely stopped at!), Sears, Wendy’s, Batteries Plus, and a whole other slew of what I consider traditional American Strip Mall essentials. I wanted an island experience. I was expecting a non-mainland charm that I couldn’t find anywhere. Although a store called “Condom Palace” definitely possessed a unique quality; for the most part I could have been back at home driving around.
Expection 0: Reality 2
So, what to do when you have clearly established a non-sensical expectation for an area? You throw the guidebook, the GPS, and any notion of a plan out the window! The best thing to do is talk to the locals. I met one guy who recommended a few sights, one of which was Ponce in the South of Puerto Rico. Known for the biggest Carnival on the island, with the most elaborate masks, I thought why not? So off we went!
Ponce Pueblo (Historic Ponce) is a beautiful contradiction. The buildings are pristinely painted and at first glance look meticulously cared for. Charm is everywhere! But, what lurks behind the doors for many of the buildings is something I’m not sure anyone could expect: they are vacant. While a large sum of money was invested into the historic area placing hundreds of buildings on the National Registry of Preservation, it seems that no one ever moved in. Even the old Intercontinental Hotel that once was the glitz and glam place to be in the 50’s is now vacant and only holds memories of such grandeur. It seemed like a ghost town everywhere outside of the central square where small preparations were being made for the upcoming Carnival.
So here is the thing: Ponce captured me. It made my mind curious with possibility. What was behind each door? What were its’ secrets? Who would live here in the future? Who use to live here? Why so much attention to exterior beauty but let the insides rot away? It is places like this that make travel worthwhile and while you can’t fill a day with travel excursions in this particular area, you could certainly fill a week or more in reflection. It is places like this when expectations are non-existent and there are no “plans” that inspire me the most. There is something utterly beautiful in the simple complexities.
Expectation 0: Reality 3
So at the end of it all I’m glad reality won. I was happy to let go of any preconceived thoughts and just go with the flow. I got to explore Ponce; a place I had never heard of until coming across it. I also was able to indulge my nerdy side while visiting the Arecibo Observatory, examine stalactites and stalagmites at the Rio Camuy Cave Park, and possess child-like amusement by driving high into the mountains throughout the West Coast of Puerto Rico which is nothing like the East Coast.
What I learned: Stop expecting, get rid of any plan, talk to locals, amuse yourself with your own questions and sense of imagination, don’t always seek perfection or an itinerary and always make time to self-evaluate.
Happy Traveling! I would love to hear about your adventures and expectations or lack there of when traveling!