first impressions of puerto rico
Having plunged headfirst into life in Puerto Rico for about a month now, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a break from setting up our condo for a moment to document our initial impressions.
One of the first things everyone notices when they get here is that driving is VERY different than it is on the mainland. The best analogy I can think of is “leveling up” when playing a video game. Driving on the mainland is the easy level with wide streets, familiar rules, and predictable drivers for the most part. Driving in Puerto Rico is the highest difficulty level where the roads narrow considerably (often without a dividing line), bone-jarring potholes appear and must be dodged, the rules change (for example: pulling out into and BLOCKING traffic to take a left turn is perfectly fine), and drivers are unpredictable (they run the gamut from extremely aggressive to frustratingly slow and seemingly oblivious). That said, I am getting more comfortable as I start to pick up on the “rules of the road” here. For example, if you see someone poking his front-end out into traffic, you can flash your lights at them so they know that you are letting them go. This usually results in the driver giving you an appreciative wave which is definitely better than white-knuckling it past them, wondering if they are going to cut you off or not. :)
The stores are pretty well stocked considering we are on an island but definitely not to the extent they are in the states. As an example, the Sam’s Club here doesn’t stock coconut oil, coconut flour, avocado oil, almond flour, maple syrup, or dark chocolate chips which are some of our staples. However, you can get most of the hard-to-find items you’re looking for on Amazon and if they won’t ship it for some reason, you can usually find someone on Ebay who will. Much to Holly’s dismay, one thing we haven’t been able to find locally OR get shipped is 85% dark chocolate. If you happen to know where we can get some here in Puerto Rico, please let us know! Somewhat related to shopping, I was struck by how busy and happening the Mayaguez Mall is. It certainly doesn’t feel like the Puerto Rican economy is in depression when you go there!
Seeing the gas station cashiers behind bullet-proof glass doesn’t do much to inspire confidence in my personal safety but I did notice some other things that did. For example, it was nice to see that the Mayaguez Mall has manned security towers and a security vehicle patrolling the parking lot. The parking lot at Sam’s Club/Home Depot in Mayaguez has the towers as well but I’ve never seen them manned. There is however, a security guard on a bike riding up and down the rows of the parking lot. Most stores also have security guards at the door, primarily to catch shoplifters I’m sure. We don’t live in a gated compound or anything, but overall I’ve felt comfortable walking around where we live in Aguada and I’ve even felt comfortable with Holly going out and doing some shopping on her own. My hunch is you just need to stay aware of your surroundings at all times to prevent crimes of opportunity.
The maintenance man for our building says the people are more laid-back and friendly on this side of the island than elsewhere. Having not spent much time elsewhere on the island I can’t speak to that, but Holly and I have definitely been impressed by how nice the people are here. If you flash a smile and attempt to speak a little broken Spanish, almost everyone we have encountered has been incredibly warm and friendly.
We haven’t had the chance to try all of the Puerto Rican dishes yet, but I have had some of the best chicken of my life here: juicy, fall-off-the-bone roasted chicken. Empandillas are good and I LOVE the fried sweet plantains, but one thing I didn’t see much of in traditional Puerto Rican cuisine was fresh (non-starchy) vegetables. After a week of eating out because we didn’t have any kitchen appliances, we were really craving a huge chef salad! (it was actually worse than that…) Another somewhat random comment I want to make about the food here is concerning breakfast at McDonalds… it’s much better than in the states! They use real fried eggs in their McGriddles and serve good Puerto Rican coffee. :)
Surprisingly, the mosquitos seem less numerous here than in Texas. For the first two weeks we slept with the windows wide open because we didn’t have screens or air conditioners yet. Granted, we are on the third floor and I did get my share of mosquito bites, but I can’t even imagine doing that in Texas. The mosquitos would swarm around our legs in our backyard. They would probably carry us away if we left the windows open!
There is probably no better way to rekindle a sense of childlike wonder than to travel (and move!) to a foreign land. I’m sure Puerto Rico will continue to surprise and amaze us for years to come. :)