Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Reunion - Part 4 (Finale)

I'm not sure it's ever taken me this long to write a story about a 5 day vacation. Let's just say my life has been flipped upside down over the last few weeks leaving me with a depleted amount of creative super powers. However, I don't enjoy unfinished storytelling. So, without further adieu, the conclusion...

Saturday morning, after maybe 4 or 5 hours of sleep we awoke unable to continue slumbering about nor able to get out of bed. It wasn't actually a hangover, it was dehydration mixed with complete laziness. Around 2pm we finally got moving and gathered the outfits we were wearing to Pablo's wedding. Contrary to how this seems, Adonis, Bru and I did not coordinate these colors prior to the trip.

Collective fashionable minds. Purple, and its many shades, is just a hot color.

I dedicated a blog entry regarding Pablo's wedding on my other site Everyone's Wedding But Mine. Check the site for the full details of our time spent within the boundaries of El Conquistador Hotel and Resort.

In the end, we unanimously agreed that it had been one of the very best weddings we'd ever attended.We thought about continuing the evening at Drums but by the time we reached our hotel rooms, we wanted nothing more than sleep. Sunday would be our last full day on the island and we hoped to make the most of it.

We awoke fully refreshed and in the mood for some local interaction. After visiting Mi Casita and filling our bellies with yummy omelets, we dropped by Charlie Car Rental to grab a vehicle for the day before heading to Carolina's public beach. Although it is not far from the tourist area of Isla Verde, this beach is clearly of a different nature. Large families camp out across the sand with grills, coolers and BBQ pits. The smell of fried food and the sounds of salsa fill the air. Little kids run a muck, somersaulting across the waves and shouting games of hide and seek in the currents. There is a ton of laughter and an overall sense of fun. We soaked it up, hoping that on this last full day of our vacation, we might somehow bring it back with us to NY.

With the sun dipping in and out of clouds that produced rain sprinkles while also allowing through sunshine, we laid about for an hour or two before moving on to the next portion of our day trip. Knowing a bit about this North East section of the island, I guided the boys to an area called Los Pinones . As we drove through the slow moving traffic, our mouths watered at the sight of several road side shacks boasting foods like bacalaĆ­tos (cod fish), pastelitos and pollo frito (fried chicken.) We made a pit stop for some wood crafted souvenirs before landing at a shack that smelled the most oily...which means that it would have the most delicious tasting food. We were not let down.

The more I write the more I'm amazed that we didn't all gain 10 pounds on this trip. Ironically, I came home two pounds lighter. Maybe the oil helped wash the fat off my fat?

Later in the evening we found our way to Old San Juan, one of Puerto Rico's premiere historical sites. Regardless of the fact that I've visited this area many times over the years, the effect of its colonial beauty is never lost on me.

Pretty isn't it? So full of history. And what better way to celebrate history (and Spain winning the World Cup) than by downing a few beers from a microbrewery?!

After eating once more (I believe the place was called Mojito- right??) the rain began to fall yet again and so we loaded ourselves back into our rental car and joined Dex and Stephanie at the El San Juan Hotel lobby.

There are nights where the lobby is quite the party, filled with the sounds of a live salsa band. This wasn't one of those nights. Old timer jazz and the kind of people that listen to such things (read: aged) filled the lobby and so we left to pursue a younger crowd back at Drums. One problem: it was Sunday. The club walls were filled with us, a band lead by the craziest, gyrating-centric, singer we've ever seen perform and his random followers, which equaled about ten bodies. We stuck around for a bit simply because the man was entertaining in a "this is so crazy I can't look away" type of manner. However, after the long day of sunning, walking and eating, our sleepiness got the best of us and we called it a night rather early, retreating very sadly down the road to our hotel one last time.

Monday's morning rays crept through our blinds in a taunting way. From the moment we all awoke you could sense the mood change. The three of us hardly spoke unless necessary, an overall emotional dampness filled the room. The boys went to return the rental car while I grabbed some last moments of sun on the beach. When they returned, I joined them upstairs where we packed our belongings and rattled our suitcases down to the La Playita restaurant for our last meal. Adonis and I chose cheddar cheeseburgers while Bru had his last mofongo. I checked his skin color. It was surprisingly red for someone who should be banana yellow by now. And how could we leave without a last taste of our favorite desserts?

Before the cab came to drive us away from our weekend paradise we snapped one last photo in our "backyard."

At the airport we were pretty quiet until the Gonzalez clan joined us. It's hard to stay quiet around that funny and happy family. While the boys gawked at some lovely ladies boarding our flight, I looked out at the airport and the palm trees beyond. I sighed so loud several people turned to look at me... or maybe they were looking at the model-like woman behind me. Ehh.

We found our seats, prepared for the three hour flight ahead of us and I pulled out my laptop. I began this blog... but not before snapping yet another photo of Bru falling asleep with his mouth open.

And then I turned to my window and caught the last glimpse of our beautiful island before it was nothing more than a speck at the far corner of the plane's wing.

As I said a silent goodbye, I thought about the four years that had passed since my last visit. I thought about all I'd been through since then, about all that has changed. I thought it was ironic that I was returning home to change. Big changes. I took a deep breath.

I got through them once before.

I could do it again. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Reunion- Part 3

If there was one thing we knew how to do in Puerto Rico, it was eat.

Lunch on Thursday found us at Lupis- a quasi-Rican-Mexican joint where the boys chomped down on their first mofongo (a mashed plantain dish stuffed with your choice of shrimp, meat, etc) and I began my binge on tostones (fried plantains.) The food was good, but apparently we tasted better. Just ask the brigade of mosquitoes that decided to chomp on us while we ate. Ouch. Never eating there again.

After several hours in the sun we were only motivated to walk a few feet to dinner, which is why we ended up at La Playita- the restaurant within our own hotel. The boys tried fish while I sucked away at chicharron de pollo (fried chicken pieces) and my second serving of tostones. I was convinced FRIED bananas would contain less carbs than rice (idiot.)  My food was yummy although the boys weren't too happy with their fish. Dessert was the saving grace for all of us. I had the most perfect flan (custard) I've ever tasted while Adonis lost his mind over a chocolate cake and Bru devoured a coconut cheesecake without breathing. Then our 7 foot water Yuri took a photo of us.

It is amazing that we were able to make it out that night with our bellies so full of Puerto Rican goodness. By 1030pm we were making rounds in Isla Verde. Per my suggestion we headed down to The Water Club hotel which has a swanky rooftop bar. Apparently the memo didn't make it out proclaiming this was the spot to be on a Thursday night because no one was there. Regardless, our small crew joined by Dex's brothers, had a fine time chatting it up while overlooking the beach.
Who says late 20/early 30 year-olds stay up all night? Not us. Our old asses were in bed by midnight...But up the next morning to hit the beach without fail. I had a tan to work on dammit!

After another day on the beach, the boys and I decided to troop down the avenue to Mi Casita which came highly recommended by my mom. Once again frick and frack ordered mofongo. I started to worry that Bru would turn in to a giant mound of yellow mushiness by the time our trip was over. Ironically though, that would mean I would also turn into a tostone since that was all I ate. (Earlier I had snuck down to La Playita while the boys were out and chowed down on a delicious arugula and steak salad.) After Adonis swallowed his last piece of mash and Bru slurped up his sauce with a straw (he really did), we headed back to our hotel.

Horribly lethargic and awaiting Lebron's decision (gag me!), we three lounged around our room without much motivation to do anything else. However, I had two of my female cousins on the way and there was no chance in hell they'd let it be a slow night. The first cousin to arrive was Carmen who met me down at the bar of our hotel. I hadn't seen Carmen in over four years and above all else it was the first time we were hanging out as adults without our parents. As she and I threw back a beer and caught up on family news, Adonis and Bru joined us. Jessie, my long term friend who migrated to PR when she was a preteen, showed up soon thereafter and we quickly joked about our childhood thanks to pics she had brought for show and tell.

We contemplated what to do with our evening when suddenly the DJ played some merengue and got us all in the mood to dance. The natives suggested we hit up Drums, a local club not far from our hotel. Chugging the rest of my beer, I lead the crew to the club where we were greeted with reggaeton beats and cheap drinks. A bucket of some form of jungle juice had us laughing and dancing like fools. A live band played Shakira hits and other songs native to Puerto Rico which the girls seemed to understand but had Adonis, Bru and I giving each other blank stares. Even with our cluelessness the fun never ended...Until 4am when the lights came on and the music stopped.

I closed down a club. I thought old timers couldn't do such things!

As we returned to the hotel, drenched in sweat, one of us came up with the miraculous idea of jumping into the ocean. I can only say it wasn't me...and yet I was one of the ones that did it. What started out as a good idea turned brutal when I bang the bottom of my foot on a rock and Bru tripped and scrapped up his shin. In the end though, all we could do was laugh.
And then Jessie got hungry. Or maybe we all did. And so our journey of food consumption continued as we changed and headed to Denny's where we were met by a horde of clubgoers. Once at the table I did what I do best at diners - fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of silverware crashing onto plates. Everyone was done eating and Jessie was softly pushing me out of the booth. As we exited Denny's I blinked several times. "Is that the sun?!" I asked aloud. Adonis confirmed my suspicion. It was in fact 6:30 in the morning.By the time we reached our beds the sun was in full bloom and I had to hide my head under a pillow.

It had been a fun and memorable evening. There was only one problem...we had to be up in less than 5 hours to get ready for Pablo's wedding. Ouch.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Reunion- Part 2

The night before our flight, none of us slept. Therefore, when we arrived at Newark airport at 530am on July 8th, it was no surprise that we greeted each other with grunts instead of hugs. The most verbal communication I had was greeting the Gonzalez clan (Dex’s fam had joined us) and asking where the bathroom was.

Boarding on time, Bru and I found our adjoining seats while Adonis smiled at the sight of two single ladies whose row he’d be joining. I don’t think we were even off the ground before I caught the first of many moments where Bru would fall asleep with his mouth wide open.

I tried to sleep myself, but alas I could not. Instead, I watched How to Train Your Dragon which was entirely entertaining. Three hours later we touched down in San Juan. Sun and a little cloud cover greeted us.

Bru, Adonis and I headed straight to the hotel while Dex and Stephanie (his wife) joined their family for lunch. The hotel was at the East most end of the Isla Verde beach, reaching two levels and quaint. I met Linda who was thrilled to find out I live in her old neighborhood and consequently not pissed at the 15 times I had called her over the last month. She directed us to room 207.

We entered the room and this was our view.

Adonis stood beside me. “I want this to be the view outside my bedroom at home. Think you can work some magic and make that happen?” In his not serious yet serious demeanor he replied, “I’ll see what I can do.” That Adonis, always coming through for me!

I called my cousin Jessie who informed us that Puerto Rico had endured a crappy summer thus far, filled with rain and humidity. “If you even see a peek of sun, go lay out because that’s all you’re going to get.” With that advice we changed into our bathing suits and found a spot on the beach. While I soaked up rays, the boys did what boys do and commented on every chic that passed us by. If women watching were a sport, these boys would win the gold medal.

Dips in the ocean introduced us to the most refreshing sensation of cool, but not cold, water. Bru bobbed up and down next to me in the soft waves. “Dude! We’re finally here!” He nodded. “And now we just need to figure out how to make sure it doesn’t rush past us.” He looked at me, “Well, when you figure out how to bottle up time and sell it at an insane price, let me know.”

If only it were that easy.

To be continued…

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Reunion- Part 1

Back in March 2003 I was a senior at Rutgers and had never attended a vacation outside of the tri-state area without my parents. With my college graduation sneaking up on me I felt it was my duty to organize a liberating adventure filled with partying and sunbathing. I rounded up 9 of my friends and booked our Jetblue flight and hotel arrangements in South Beach, Miami. The 7 day vacation that transpired would go down in history as the best vacation any of us had ever had.

The 2003 South Beach Crew

Until last week.

One of the South Beach attendees had been Pablo, who was set to marry his beloved girlfriend Amanda in Puerto Rico on July 10, 2010. Besides Pablo, I had also remained very good friends with three of my other dorm-mates: Dex, Bru and Adonis. When we learned we were all invited to the wedding our collective tank of brains began to buzz feverishly. Not only was this a wedding, but a reunion 7 years in the making! In a complete role reversal, Dex took the reins and started looking up flights and hotels. Maybe marriage has made him as organizationally compulsive as I am. I received a call at my office several months before the wedding with a very motivated Dex on the other end. He placed a metaphorical gun to my head and instructed me to purchase a specified Continental Airlines ticket. Ok, I’m exaggerating. Really, he just said, “I found us a flight. You in?” And I responded, “Ok.”

Once past the air transportation, we moved on to hotels. For various reasons 3 of us were attending the wedding solo. No stranger to sharing a room with these guys, I put my femininity aside, deepened my voice and asked Bru and Adonis if I could room with them. They said it was cool…as long as I stopped talking like a man. Done.

When it came to choosing a hotel, I was the guru of sorts since I’d lodged in Isla Verde, PR many times throughout my adolescence. An internet search landed me on the homepage of La Playa Hotel. It took me only a moment to realize the newly renovated hotel was once a hot spot my mom frequented in her heyday. Good karma. I jumped on the phone and negotiated the price for an ocean view room with the ever helpful and jubilant hotel manager, Linda. Over the following months I would come to call Linda repeatedly to reassure our reservations were still valid. Bless her soul for being patient with my paranoia.

With flights and hotel accommodations settled, all we had to do was wait. Gchat convos with Dex, IM with Pablo and phone calls with Bru always revolved around one thing: Can we go yet? Fortunately, life sped by as it often does and before we could all say “Yo quiero mofongo!” (I just made Bru’s mouth water) we were a week away from our flight. It’s ironic how sometimes vacations pop up at a time when you need them most. Bru and I were dealing with sicknesses in our families and collectively we were all at a boiling point with our everyday lives. We didn’t just need a tan, we needed a sanity readjustment.

To be continued…