“Travel changes you. As you move through this world and this life, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life and travel leave marks on you”….Anthony Bourdain
San Juan Puerto Rico was my first solo vacation/project. I had just turned 40, newly married and spiraling out of control, head first into a mid life crisis. Thank God for Jet Blue’s once in a lifetime All You Can Jet Pass. I’m sure that’s when the bug bit me. My first destination was Old San Juan, my companion, a behemoth DSL camera and all it’s necessary components. You could see me coming a mile away with my oversized roll along, a carry on, and personal item stumbling over the steel blue cobblestones, map in hand. I looked like I was straight out of a Chelsea Handler novel.
I returned today to Viejo San Juan with the same excitement and anticipation, only much more travel savvy. Puerto Rico and I had endured our worst storms since our last meeting. Puerto Rico, literally just 7 months after Hurricane Maria raped the island. Me, figuratively, as I had endured a divorce (yeah, that didn’t last long), loss of my mother and grandmother, all the while battling the persistent illness of midlife crisis. That trip 7.5 years ago opened doors that would lead to endless travel for the next 8 years, and probably the rest of my life. With my treasured Nikon strapped to my neck, I wandered the streets for 2 days, taking pictures that even today I look back at and smirk at my talent. “Not bad for an amateur”. Today the streets are filled with familiarity, but so different through my unimpeded vision. My first visit, I was terrified, afraid to speak to anyone despite my rudimentary Spanish, clutching my valuables like the Mexican drug lords were waiting for me, poor little me, in the next alley. And now? I smile now through bumbling a basic conversation with my taxi driver. I meander the streets beaming and greeting those who pass by, “Buenas Dias” or “Permisso Por Favor”.
Fear put blinders on my senses, governed those adventitious social conversations at the bar, and impeded once in a life time opportunities. Almost 8 years later, I have traveled extensively through the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe. In 2 weeks, I depart for the most apprehensive trip of my lifetime, Cartagena Colombia.
Thank you Puerto Rico for taking my hand and guiding me in the direction of the adventuresome, vagabond life I have discovered for myself. If it were not for your welcoming people, your beautiful city, and captivating history, I may still be in a small rural town in North Carolina.