The very next part of my trip to Puerto Rico commenced with a visit to Old San Juan. As a child, I first became acquainted with my native island, at the age of 4. Needless to say, I don’t remember a thing. Lucky for me, I was traveling with a friend who lived in San Juan for a few years. She was my very own, personal tour guide. After a day on the beach in Piñones, Christine and I headed into Old San Juan for dinner. We found vegetarian restaurant, Verde Mesa, where we fell in love with their Versailles’ Petit Trianon-inspired decor and expertly prepared meals.
From the punched-tin ceilings and mason-jar light fixtures, to vintage accents all around la mesa—every single corner was beautiful and well thought out. Each bite was mouth-watering and absolute heaven, down to the ‘Purple Cloud’, a raspberry merengue with fruits and sprinkled lavender seeds, that was our dessert. This restaurant is one of my top 3 places to eat in Puerto Rico. It would be a mistake to visit Old San Juan and miss eating at Verde Mesa.
Clearly, I couldn’t wait to dig in—I totally forgot to take a photo first…
Since we planned our trip to Old San Juan, rather late, we decided to dedicate the following morning to shopping and exploring the historic city, like tourists. And that we did. The night prior, I peeked into the window of a hat shop that I set my heart on stopping into, as soon as our feet landed on Cristo Street. El Galpon, my new favorite store, sold handmade panama hats, artisanal cigars, and art all made in Puerto Rico, and as promised, it was my very first stop that morning.
It took me some time, but I narrowed it down to one… The lovely woman who sold me my panama hat, steamed and custom fit it for my head. I couldn’t be more pleased with an accessory—it was as if the hat were made just for me. Now that my ensemble was complete, Christine and I went galavanting down Old San Juan’s narrow streets, with potted plants at every corner. We walked for miles, both taking photos of each other, finally arriving at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, where we stopped to explore.
It’s a shame I didn’t capture more images of the 16th century citadel. I was really taking it all in, and trying to keep my hat on while doing so. I did, however, have Christine snap this “candid” while I walked through El Morro. We did a lot of walking that day. So, we took off shortly after our jaunt through the promontory.
On our way back to The Dreamcatcher, I discovered one of my greatest wishes: a street filled with cats. We counted 12 felines, from kittens to nursing moms, lying around. There was a veterinary on the corner, so the cats were just claiming their territory. It was one of the cutest thing I have ever seen.
Finally, back at our room, Christine and I decided to step out again. The night was balmy and beautiful, and deserving of a walk on the beach. It was one of our last nights on Ocean Park, and I wanted to take advantage of the nearby seashore. What a blessing it would be to walk to the beach everyday.
For one of our last days in San Juan, we planned a voyage through El Yunque—the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System. This adventure took place quite early in the morning, and with a van full of people. At 8:00 am we drove to Río Grande to hike through the rainforest, for the big reveal. Over bridges and under enormous trees, we managed to make it to our first pit stop.
Our group discovered a beautiful lake under the canopy of hanging trees. Although it was too chilly for me, others, including my travel buddy, took a dip in the water. I might have been brave enough if it weren’t for the resident fish, floating around my feet. So, I opted for climbing trees in my swimsuit, instead.
Before long, we were all packing up for our next trek through the rainforest. Our tour guide hinted at swimming, so I was hopeful for a fish-free pond. There was so much to see, and it was all so very beautiful. It began to rain in the rainforest (who knew), but we remained dry, thanks to a few gigantic leaves we used for cover. It turns out, Taínos used these leaves as umbrellas, too.
Slowly (because I decided to wear flip-flops and did not want to slip) but surely, we arrived at El Yunque’s enamoring waterfall. At this point, the view was so damn beautiful that I didn’t care if there were fish in the water. I wanted to fully immerse myself under the downpour. After climbing over slippery rocks, I made my way into the icy water. Only able to make my body half-way under, I got my shot, and a chance to make peace with my soul. As waves of water crashed my pelvis, I took those moments to thank God and Yemayá for the opportunity to experience their grace.
I have found myself a brave woman, towards the end of 2016. Brave and full of courage to accept the past and embrace the future. I let go all of my resentments in that waterfall. All of them. What does not serve me anymore has been left in El Yunque. I trust God knows what to do with it.
There is more to come in my final chapter of this trip. Stay tuned for Part 3.
The Packing List