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Monday, August 15, 2005

Melina and me in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We picked up our rental car at the airport, fought ugly traffic on Puerto Rico's ring road, and then swept up the first "Old City" street we saw - it climbed steeply to a cliff and turned out to have a spectacular view of a fort and the ocean. I even found a parking space. As it turned out later, this was the last empty parking space in all of the Old Town, so I was quite pleased to have come upon it so casually. I didn't move the car again till we left, many days later.

We dragged our suitcases down the steep hill, down the narrow cobbled streets, to find that our hotel was a crumbling decrepit mess. (Which is a major problem with booking on the Internet.) It was dank and most of its rooms were windowless. Despondent, shirtless Russians carrying toothbrushes wandered the dark corridors.

I asked the manager for more towels (we were each given just one) and he said: "You can't have more towels. This is a business."

Luckily, we had been told in advance to ask for a room overlooking the street, so we had access to light and air and were able to step out on our narrow, dangerously rusted balcony and take in the scene below:

Two plasterers on ladders and one on the sidewalk were working on a building across the street. They were shouting at each other: "You son of a whore!" One of them had, by means of poor ladder technique, somehow torn a big chunk out of the side of the historic building they were replastering; now they were trying, but not very hard, to repair the damage. They had dumped all their plaster on the sidewalk and were mixing more on a piece of cardboard.

We found a little cobble-stone park where hundreds and hundreds of pigeons were roosting in a wall; their cooing was other-worldly. The custodian, who was pleasing the pigeons by filling a pigeon lagoon as he watered the plants, told us San Juan's streets are built of the stones which came over as ballast in the old Spanish ships.

One pigeon was methodically dipping her french-fry in a pool of water leaking from a hydrant.

One night we wandered down to the waterfront to watch drunken tourists stagger back to their magnificent twinkling cruise-ships. 3600 per ship! We were asked again and again to take pictures of the little tourist pods, straggling past us on the way to their gangplanks, happily clutching balloons, green frog totems (from the Green Frog bar I guess), and shopping bags from the Gap.

Near us an extremely skinny man was trying to sell the big grasshoppers he was making out of palm fronds. He told us this is how he supports his family. He was wearing a wedding ring. I bought one of his grasshoppers, but it had withered by the time I got back to North Carolina so I threw it away.

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At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fabulous virtual tour. A great way to start my week.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger kenju said...

I love virtual travel Almost as much as the real thing!

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The advantage of virtual traveling is... if you need a towel you can just take one from the linen closet. :)

"Despondent, shirtless Russians carrying toothbrushes wandered the dark corridors." - great line.


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