Sunday, March 10, 2019

Locals Just Hangin' Out In OSJ

Since we've arrived to our new Island Home, we've been working diligently to get the place ready for our first visitors.  We've got only 3 more days until they get here, but we've gotta have a break!  Thanks to the Facebook page of our Town Cultural Centre, we got in on a sweet little deal.  Several times a year, they organise bus trips to see fun stuff, and I signed us up!

With my struggling Spanish, it was a bit difficult to get on the list.  Many of the people here do not rely so heavily on the internet, so messaging and texting take a back seat to good old fashioned phone calls!  That's great if you are fluent, but well... I'll get better and we eventually got all the wrinkles ironed out and confirmed that we were on the list.  This left me thinking that Bruce and I might be the only English speakers on the bus and that we might feel isolated.  No worries, we can just go off on our own and enjoy Old San Juan.  I couldn't have been more wrong!!!

The instant we got out of our car, we were welcomed warmly and brought into the fold.  We were introduced to several people who were fluent in English and Spanish and we were off to a great start in getting to know our neighbours!  They wouldn't hear of letting us go off on our own and we formed a small group of 5 ready to spend the day together.

When we arrived to OSJ, our bus parked and we gathered for a group photo, then we took off down the sidewalk.  I was chatting furiously with one of my new friends, just following the flow of our group as we turned to cross the road.  Suddenly, all I remember is that I was going down!  The ground was somehow rising up toward my face and then everything stopped with a thud.

Everything happened fast after that.  The group gathered around me and helped me up from the street.  I found myself sitting in the shade in a chair, with a bottle of cold water in one hand and a paramedic at my other as he hooked my finger up to the oxygen sensor and began taking my blood pressure.  A bandaid loomed and my bloody nose was throbbing...  I felt dizzy and disoriented so it's all a blur, but soon things came back into focus and I felt like such an idiot!!!

OMG I fell on my face!  I had not seen the cone and just walked right over it. Of course I downplayed my discomfort because I didn't want to ruin the day for anyone.  My new friends, Basilio, Vangie and Carol, wouldn't hear of going off and leaving us... they were staying with us no matter what.  So I swallowed the tears that were straining at the backs of my eyes, put on a brave face and off we went.

Vangie and Carol mothered me a little bit, making sure I saw the many obstacles that could trip me up again, and insisting that I used the handrails on the stairs... We had a lot of laughs about that, which made my face hurt...  I was given the royal treatment and used the chair Basilio carried, much to my chagrin.  I kept thinking that these people were probably sorry they had met us by now, but no... The people on this island are just like instant family!  Maybe my bungle has given us a bond!

Well enough about that... We were here to see CircoFrest!  This island does love its festivals... It seems like there is one somewhere on almost any weekend of the year.  Now that we're locals, we will be able to pick and choose, and hopefully see them all... eventually.

This event is scattered throughout the OSJ area where performers do their acts in the little plazas that seem to be around every corner.  Our first look was a traveling parade!  We practically walked right into it and there it was, with strange looking participants, music and a lot of joyful noise.  It almost made me forget about the pain in my face!  It was a lovely distraction! And my will to take photos returned!
These characters were just a tad creepy...



The guy in the red nose is not an actor... he's one of our group!  
Pretty good for one hand with a dude on his lap!


And who wouldn't love a rainbow fairy princess with bubbles?
Musicians provided background for the tumblers.
The parade was short, and I realized later that these were the circus performers!  They scattered to their plazas and the show schedule began.


The shows lasted around 20-30 minutes each, and were staggered so that you could make your way from one venue to the next in time for the start of the next show.  There were little pockets of awesomeness all over town!  The crowd was not too bad, even though there were several cruise ships in port, there was enough room for everyone!


Carol suggested lunch and I felt like that might improve my outlook on life, so we set off in search of a reasonably priced meal.


Basilio took the lead and we just followed!
The beautiful cobbled streets are showing a little wear

Bronze statuary scattered throughout the town
Rounding the corner, this is what we saw!  Fortaleza street in front of the Governor's house! PINK!
The colors are changed, this time PINK during Semana de la Mujer
Must-Have selfie!


Getting closer...

That little door bottom left is our spot!
That might be hard to come by in Old San Juan, but eventually we found the place we were looking for... only to be told that it has been closed since Maria.  Now what???  A few steps further and we found this little hole-in-the-wall place that looked just right!

We walked into the cool, darkened interior and the scent of Pizza filled our nostrils...even my sore and swelling schnoz was momentarily happy!  A Tu Gusto has delicious Puerto Rico/Italian food at very reasonable prices!  We'll be back!

The food and a quiet place to sit did me good and I felt revived after the meal.  We happily got to know our new friends and began to plan future outings that will color our new lives here in Puerto Rico.  We are so happy to have found these people!  It was a little like being on display hanging out with Basilio and Vangie... He was Mayor of our town for 12 years and knows literally everyone!  Then Carol has a cousin in every port it seems... I think we will find valuable networking opportunities through this group.  Bruce needs to see a doctor about his shoulder... Carol's cousin is a Doctor in Patillas!  Done!

Signs of Maria's wrath are still found everywhere!

We left the restaurant newly recharged.  My face was evan allowing a small smile with only a gentle rebuff...

I took so many photos of the gorgeous architecture in this old city... I'm sure there will be many, many to come in future blog posts, so I'll try to keep it down... but I have to say that on first glance, the city has come back as vibrant as ever.  But in looking back at the photos, I notice far more instances where the damage is still there.  The people of Puerto Rico are very proud of their own resilience, but there is an undercurrent of disappointment that they are treated as the unloved step-children by the US.  But there is optimism that the media exposure has opened the eyes of vacation-goers and they are seeing increased tourism after Maria.  This is a good thing!  Americans have realized that they have this Paradise just outside their door with easy flights and no passport required, and Puerto Ricans are seeing that adversity has a silver lining!

We have been completely welcomed here and are forming our new Tribe!
With full and happy tummies, our little group wandered the streets of Old San Juan, practically forgetting that we were here to see the circus acts.  Our new friends, while locals, have not explored the city extensively, and what parts they have seen before, they enjoyed seeing again through our new eyes!

We ducked into the Cathedral Metropolitana Basilica de San Juan Bautista to drink in the beauty of this historical building constructed in 1540.  There's a hush and reverence demanded by the weight of so many years, and you can almost feel the ghosts of those who have entered these halls before us. There are artefacts and statues inside that must be seen in person to be fully appreciated, but I've provided a few here to give you the idea.






I'm pretty sure Easter is going to be a BIG DEAL here!




We stopped to watch the making of our personalised Piraguas!
Moving on... we (us girls) decided that we needed something cold and refreshing to cool us off!  Yes, its winter and the balmy breezes are keeping the island mostly cool, but shut up!  We want Ice Cream!  OK, we'll settle for a nice Piragua, the Puerto Rican word for Snow Cone!

They come in a bunch of tropical flavours and Bruce I chose Pineapple/Coconut... A very good choice!


We toasted to New Friends and a Very Good Day, despite my injuries!
We found shade where we could enjoy our ices...

And I took advantage of an opportunity to soothe my aching face!
The afternoon was cooling off and the shadows getting longer.  We wandered back out to a square to watch some acrobats do a show on a rope.  The strength of these women was not evident by looking at them, but they were amazing!




Our time was dwindling, we would board the bus again at 6pm and we were getting pretty tired.  We don't get out much and an all day trip with so much to see was causing visual overload, in addition to my throbbing beak!  Our little group drifted back to the coast to take in the stunning view of the fort and the cemetery below.  We will be back to explore this jewell in-depth on another day, mark my words!



The way back takes us right by the offending CONES!
Lounging in the shade of an ancient wall, chatting in both English and Spanish, we improve our budding language skills.  It's so good to know that there is no hurry to see it all... We LIVE HERE!










Someone from our bus group, Carol's cousin, waves us over and tells us that it's time to start making our way back to the bus.  We take a leisurely walk down the coast route.  The views are stunning and there are little pockets of art to be seen along the way.



We reached the gathering point, Columbus Plaza and found a place to sit along the perimeter in the shade.  Pigeons pecked at specks around our feet and happy sounds comprised the overall hum of the city, making it personal.

We wanted one more group selfie and began posing for it with the statue when a man came over and volunteered to take us all in the photo!  He then proceeded to lie on the ground so that he could get us in the photo with the entire statue!  What a guy!

After the photo shoot, we retired to our seats and began to chat with him. He opened the conversation by asking if we were here on one of the cruise ships.

Insert significant pause to mark this momentous occasion...
















Our answer:  No... we live here.  Yeah, that's right.  We're LOCALS!  We were giddy with delight that we hadn't had to wait long before we could lay this little gem on a tourist!

The man was appropriately impressed and began asking us questions about moving here, saying he and his wife were considering retiring to somewhere outside the US proper.  You know how I delight in sharing the knowledge we've gained...  Well, anyway, the conversation flowed until it was time to board our bus.

We gathered with the rest of the group and I was once again blown away at how caring and solicitous these people were to me as one after another, they came ti inquire about my injuries.  Here we are, total strangers, coming to their island to take advantage of the riches they possess... And they are proud to share them!  They aren't jealous of their bounty, they WANT others to know about the wonders of their island.  And because they have accepted us so instantly and wholly into their ranks, I tell you this right now... I will share as much of this beautiful secret as I can until it is a secret no more.  I can you know... because I'm a LOCAL!


Our new Peeps!  Carol in front, then Basilio and Vangie to the right. 

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