Saturday, May 28, 2011

El tiempo de la isla

In the first "real" vacation I've had in a very long time, I finally made it to the Caribbean. I spent a few days in San Juan, Puerto Rico before joining 8 friends on a 45-foot catamaran to go sailing around the British Virgin Islands. The two parts of the trip are distinctly different, but enjoyable in their own ways.

I loved loved loved San Juan. I never left the old walled city, but that was definitely enough to captivate me. Next time I visit, I'd like to see the rain forest, caves, and beaches, but for the few days I was there, two Spanish forts, the old city wall, a cathedral, parks, a ton of museums, and various ruins held my fascination and imagination. At night, I loved the sounds of live bands and music coming from clubs, apartments, and street corners.

And the food was amazing! I think my favorite was a sweet plantain "lasagna" ... actually, all the plantain dishes I had were delicious. I ordered mofongo at one restaurant not knowing what it was, and it turned out to be a tasty, uniquely Puerto Rican dish. I also discovered a new appreciation for piña coladas.

My adventures in Spanish are an ongoing saga - and of course, everyone thought I was Boricua. Which was part of why I think I felt immediately at home in San Juan: it struck me as a multilingual, multi-ethnic, multi-racial society with rich traditions spanning several continents, and I'd love to explore it more.

Sailing around the British Virgin Islands was also beautiful and fascinating! We sailed from island to island, docking or mooring every night in a different harbor. (One yacht club where we stayed played Pirates of the Caribbean, which we giddily watched because we were in the Caribbean.)

I've never been a big rum fan, but after having Pusser's Rum, I think I've changed my mind - what better way to start a new beverage experience than with the very rum the Royal Navy served its sailors daily for over 300 years?

After San Juan, the food couldn't really compare - I thought the best food of the trip were dishes we prepared on the boat (like bourbon-marinated pork chops with marmalade glaze). I had conch ceviche at a beach cafe, though, which was interesting and different.

I tried snorkeling for the first time; unfortunately, I jumped right in and tried it in fairly open water. Three daily attempts and three panic attacks later, I finally plunked my head
down in 3-feet deep water on a beach until I got used to the snorkel.

One couple on the boat got engaged during the trip! The next day, they lost the ring; hilarity and heartbreak ensued as we tore apart the boat trying to find it. Ultimately, it wasn't found until about half an hour before we had to leave for the airport.

One thing that haunted me the whole time was the role of tourism and the legacy of colonization. There was something perpetually jarring about a majority-black native population serving majority white, super-wealthy vacationers in the yacht clubs, marinas, and resort towns across the islands. The fabulously gorgeous houses, restaurants, and harbor buildings sometimes seemed like the facades in an Old West town - a block or two inland past the tree buffers, there were actually a lot of poor, destitute-looking areas. This is what struck me the most about my first trip to a Caribbean paradise, and it was rather depressing; I spent many nights on the boat reading up on the history of the Virgin Islands and pondering economies of complicity.

All in all, though, the trip was very relaxing.

The transition back to work has been difficult, especially with a new medication regimen I just started (courtesy of the snorkel-inspired anxiety attacks). It's heartening to realize, however, that I do have good friends - from San Juan travel buddies to the BVI sailing crew to someone willing to drive me to my doctor's office post-vacation.

I have no idea if my impressions of my trip would be different if I hadn't been in the middle of some of my worst bouts with depression and anxiety, but all's well that end's well. It was a beautiful two weeks, and a refreshing break from the hectic rhythms of my busy brain and busy life.

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