My Dreams are Chasing Puerto Rico

I keep waking up in Pickens, South Carolina, but my dreams are still in this tropical town on Puerto Rico’s west coast.  It’s such a hidden gem that I won’t give up the name so quickly, but I’ll take you there in stories and photos; it’s like stepping into my desktop background, all sandy surf and palms against blue gradients. 

My oldest brother David planned the trip with the help of our Puerto Rican friend Jeaselie.  We’d connect in Charlotte then fly to San Juan Wednesday evening, then stay in the airport hotel and tour the area in the morning before heading west to our ocean oasis. 

I took advantage of flight time by editing my manuscript, sky blue pen on printed pages in a 3-ring binder.  Seatmates asked if I was a writer.  I fumbled a few starts, then stammered, “I’m a teacher, but I’m also a writer.” It was true, right? I’d been blogging weekly again, posting a poem a day for National Poetry Month, and had been assigned my first article for a new publishing company. 

We caught a glimpse of the city lit by airport lights, and while we fell asleep, I thought of the article and its looming deadline, right in the middle of our spring break getaway. I was still thinking of it when I awoke well before our alarm and began chipping away at a story reminiscent of my journalism days, a rusty skillset. 

David signed us up for a culture and lifestyle tour that took us through Viejo San Juan where we saw statues of Columbus, John the Baptist, and every US president to visit their island.  It was an intersection of the original Boriken heritage, Spanish colonization, and US control starting at the turn of the twentieth century. 

As we drove east, our tour guide Stephanie told us about the origin of bomba music.  As we ate alcapurrias in Loíza, she shared more about slavery on the island.  As we took in street art in Santurce, she gave an alternate perspective on gentrification.  She drove, talked, and played local music.

And after side-swiping a van on the too-narrow streets and popping her broken side mirror into place, Stephanie reminded us of the unique traffic guidelines, like how Puerto Ricans don’t mind stop signs or use blinkers. 

I was on vacation in paradise, but I saw a story and a poem in everything.  We found Stephanie’s words accurate as we crawled with the top down in that grey Ford Mustang during rush hour.  I observed an ebb and flow in traffic much like the tide itself, natural comings and goings governed by unspoken people exchanges, not signals and lights. 

You could feel the shift when we left the northern coast along the Atlantic and began cutting south. It was as if the world slowed down and I was seeing each newness all at once. There were few other cars but lots of farms and trees I couldn’t name.  You could take in rainforest and mountains in the same breath. 

We checked into our hotel, then headed to the town square for the weekly Thursday night Art Gallery Walk. Men advertised goods like tin can roosters that crow when you pull the string and others sold jewelry and paintings.  One woman was peddling crocheted stuffed animals like I make for my nieces and nephews.  Local recommendations in hand, we grabbed dinner then talked all night on the balcony, brother and sister, in Puerto Rico.  

The next morning, I woke again well before my alarm, and I returned to the balcony to finalize my article and photos for that deadline.  While my brother enjoyed the extra sleep, I also felt his expressed support in my commitment to work as a writer. In a place where it can be sunny, cloudy, and rainy in the same day and each is equally inviting, I experienced an awakening of sorts.

After submitting my story, David and I hit the beach chairs, now fully on vacation.  While he read, I wrote “Dáme Puerto Rico”.  It was the first of my April poetry posts that was new and untested.  I ended up sharing it with Stephanie so she could see what she’d inspired on that tour, and the company in the building the street artist was painting thanked me for my beautiful poem about the island, assuring me they’d share it with the artist.

Two mornings waking up in Puerto Rico, and the writer in me was bursting free, begging to reconnect with people like it was born to do.  Silencing it does no good, regardless of excuses about being tired after being a good teacher all day. 

By the time David and I were representing the Buffalo Bills on a sunset horseback ride where the North Atlantic and the Caribbean meet, I was captivated by the storm clouds in the distance and relished our own brief shower with every click of Bebé and Conde’s hooves.  It was my brother’s first time on a horse.  “What was that called?”  he’d asked when we cantered, his expression a priceless ear-to-ear grin.  We were free, running with the horses on Domes Beach.

On Saturday morning, I snuck away to walk the coast north as far as I could go.  Thirty minutes there and thirty minutes back, I dreamed of what life would be like for me, waking up here every day inspired. While David read, I wrote another poem, “Mosaic de la Mona”, comparing myself to sea glass (but you’ll have to read that one).  Writer’s growth was second nature in this US territory not so far away.

Sunday, we left paradise at 3:30 am to make it back to San Juan for the flight to Charlotte.  We soon realized we were the only ones stopping at red lights.  I’d Google later that it’s legal to treat red lights like flashing reds from midnight to dawn to avoid stopping alone in bad neighborhoods.  In the moment, it just seemed like the island that had never been in a hurry was gone.  We were hurdling through the night, back to our real lives in South Carolina.

On the flight back, a seatmate who saw me editing my manuscript asked if I was a writer.  “Yes,” I said, “I am.” 

At the end of school today, my principal must have picked the kids’ meme of the day just for me: “You have two choices: you can stay asleep and dream, or you can get up and chase your dreams.” My brother booked this trip to soften the blow of me turning forty, but our getaway to Rincón, Puerto Rico woke me up. My writing doesn’t want a vacation.  It’s chasing my dreams, after all.

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