Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Which KT and E Explore the 51st State

Ah, November. The leaves are falling, the wind is picking up, trainer rides are on the horizon, and yet the 2014 race season seems so far away. Time to avoid delay the inevitable with a quick getaway.

Originally, we had planned to spend two weeks in Central America, probably Panama and Honduras (and maybe Belize and/or Guatemala). Our time in Peru had whetted Elliott's appetite for monkeys (figuratively!) and I may as well use all those years of Spanish class. However, just as we were planning our trip, the government closed and I wasn't sure when I'd get paid again. Probably not the best time to book a vacation (great time, however, to buy a house). By the time I was back at work, we were packing up our condo for the move and decided to forego the vacation, save money, and be close to phones in case something came up with the sale.

But then we realized that camping at home is no fun. In order to make our condo look spacious for the sale, we moved most of our possessions--clothes, furniture, dishes, non-perishable food--into storage. Between the two of us, we have 4 plates, 4 glasses, 1 bowl, 1 dresser, and 2 chairs. The staging worked (we accepted an offer after just three days on the market), but now we have to live very minimally until the sale becomes final in early December.

After about a week of this, paired with snow in the forecast, we started studying our map and frequent flier accounts. The conclusion: Puerto Rico! There are direct flights from DC, it's just one time zone away, our cell phones would work since it's the US of A, and between United and Marriott points, we could live very well indeed on poco dinero. Neither one of us knew very much about Puerto Rico, other than a vague sense of solidarity with our fellow statehood-seeking compadres.

We learned a lot.

Lesson #1: You're still in America. Kinda.
Road signs are in MPH but gas is sold in liters. Half the road signs are in English and a different half are in Spanish. Elliott had excellent cell coverage but I had none. (Thanks, Verizon!) We weren't quite sure how to differentiate Puerto Rico from "rest of the USA, you know, the part that can [mostly] vote." When asked en español where I'm from, I started with my stock answer of "los estados unidos" and then awkwardly had to add, "la ciudad de Washington... Pero no soy política." Yes, that'll do it. 

Don't let the Spanish fortress fool you - still stars & stripes territory!

Lesson #2: Beware the wildlife
Picture a tropical island. Rain forest, beaches, coral reefs. What type of animals are in this picture? Monkeys? Parrots? Dolphins? Seagulls? Nice try. We learned that Puerto Rico has no monkeys (the rain forest has no fruit bearing trees), their parrots are one of the most endangered animals on earth, there are no dolphins (at least that we saw), and the beachside scavenger was not the seagull or even the pigeon, but rather the chicken. I guess that's where the "Chicken of the Sea"moniker was born.

Note the lack of monkeys

Lesson #3: Time means nada
If a store is supposed to open at 9, they really mean 9:45. Ish. If a local tells you a route is "really, really far," he means two hours (and really, really scenic). A "standard wait time" at the airport security screening is an hour because only one metal detector works. 

Fine, I'll relax. If I must. (And yes, we used our Eagleman 70.3 bags as luggage.)

Lesson #4: Imperfection can be grand
I think the biggest recurring theme from the trip is that nothing worked out exactly as planned, and that was quite all right. Bioluminescent kayak trip canceled due to uncooperative dinoflagellites? Bummer...until we heard the sudden downpour raging outside from the comfort of the delicious seafood restaurant we found instead. Missed the ferry back from Culebra? Oh no, guess we'll have to explore some more empty beaches and snorkel with sea turtles. Hiked 2.5 miles up to the top of El Yunque peak as the "cloud forest" reminded us of its namesake? Ok, that was kind of creepy but also awesome because we had the place to ourselves (or just couldn't see anyone else). I'm sure we'll still have to remind ourselves of this lesson on the next vacation, but it's worth noting.

Look, ma, no [other] tourists!

Speaking of next vacations, we only had an hour to explore the historic center of San Juan before our flight. Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico, anyone? 

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