I know myself. Even with the whole point of this trip to be finding myself and figuring out what I want in life, I know myself well enough that I knew I would need some ocean after 2 months in big inland cities in Mexico. I love the Caribbean, I love islands and being on them, I love being so close to such beautiful water. The humidity is something that I have learned is agreeable to me and the water is warm and some of the prettiest shades of blue I have ever seen. But there are a lot of islands in the Caribbean so why Puerto Rico? Because I wanted to contribute to the local economy here and support small businesses on the island. Yes it’s been two years since Hurricane Maria and Irma devastated the island but there is still a lot to be done. And my original plan was to do a work exchange. Save some money but also directly contribute in a sustainable way. Unfortunately nothing was solidified with the people I reached out to, so I booked a hostel 2 blocks from the beach. Unexpected/unbudgeted cost but oh man, it is a great location and it is actually pretty cheap.
In addition to the beach, I chose Puerto Rico because they speak Spanish and I figured another 3 weeks of Spanish immersion would be ideal. Well, that ended up being a bust. Their accent is really different…they don’t like to say their “s”-s and there’s so much English around that my brain is having such a hard time and I’m reverting to English for everything which makes me sad. Also, the slang and names for some general things are different. For example, orange (like orange juice) is not “naranja” like I’m used to. It’s “china” here in Puerto Rico. Bananas are not “platanos”, they are “guineos”. Basically this is just a great excuse to go back to Mexico to practice my Spanish again.
Being here has been incredible. The heat, the humidity, the beautiful blue water. I live for Caribbean days. My hair is happy, my skin is happy – except for the bug bites. My wallet on the other hand is not happy! The sticker shock! Not only is every price the actual price now (no more needing to convert from pesos to USD) but it’s also island prices. There isn’t a whole lot of agriculture here so pretty much all the food is shipped in which makes it expensive. On top of that, local dishes are super meat heavy. I’ve been very good about not eating seafood. I hade ceviche twice in GDL and none in CDMX so I was on a roll. But I ate some crab alcapurrio on my 3rd day here because there were no vegetarian options when we visited this really non-touristy area with delicious street food. The beaches weren’t the greatest for swimming but they were still great to be at. The beach by the hotel though is amazing and I have been going everyday!
Maybe it’s because I got burned out a little bit by the constant go-go-go everyday in Mexico, but I haven’t been doing shit here! I’ve been relaxing and going to the beach and cooking all my own food (mostly because restaurants here are so freaking expensive!). I have been going out to bars and dancing at nights when people in the hostel are going so I have been experiencing local nightlife which has been so much fun. Bomba, plena, $1.50 Medalla’s. Puerto Rican’s party everyday of the week and after going out every night my first week….I had to chill. I have been going to the beach everyday because it’s so close and convenient to go to, it’s free, and it’s also a place that I can spend time alone. Being in a hostel has had its pros and cons. One of the cons is privacy. I’m currently in a cafe in Old San Juan at the end of week two writing part of this piece because every time I have tried to write in the hostel patio (which is awesome) someone ends up striking up a conversation with me and I get no writing done. I’m not mad about it though because I have really enjoyed getting to know all the people coming through the hostel, whether it’s for a day or three. But I have also been really needing alone time.
I thought Puerto Rico was going to be chill and I wouldn’t have a worry in the world. But alas….I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go to NCSU for grad school. I knew deep in my gut that it wasn’t where I was supposed to be, but that didn’t make it any easier. I was giving up a PhD, with full funding and admittance into a highly regarded professional development program for minorities. But I knew my research wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be if I went there. And honestly it made me really think hard about whether a PhD will be beneficial for me. I’ve been spending a lot of sunsets alone on the beach just listening to music and thinking. About this decision, about my future, about what I want my life to look like. Unfortunately it’s not in Raleigh, NC that’s for sure.
But I’m going back to St. Croix (Details in a later post) and I couldn’t be happier! I feel like I keep putting off being an adult. But I like the fluidity of my situation. I like that I have options. Anytime I look at normal jobs I have this sense of feeling trapped when I try to imagine myself filling the position. Will I always feel like this or is it just something I need to get out of my system. Or maybe I just haven’t been looking at the right jobs and I don’t have a reason to be grounded and tied to anywhere at this moment in my life.
Being here in Puerto Rico has eased that feeling of unease though. There are three women who are doing work exchange with the hostel and if I would have stayed longer I would have signed up for that. These three women have very different stories and backgrounds, but two of them are very similar to me in many ways. Two of them specifically are in Puerto Rico for self discovery. Judith is from Hungary and has done this several times. She works for a few years, saves up money, and then travels until her money runs out. Kat is from North Carolina and quit a job she hated. She’s in Puerto Rico for a couple months to re-evaluate life and what she wants out of it. It seems that everywhere I’ve gone on this trip, there are people who dropped everything because they were unhappy and are looking for new perspectives, new inspiration. Clarity. Kinda makes me wonder about the people who seem to have all the stability and direction in the world. Are they just really good at faking it? Or am I just a wanderer who has also found wandering souls? Either way, I now have a handful of amazing friends because of this wandering adventure.