Although I made a quick stop in San Juan a few years ago on the way to a cruise, it has been many more years since I have spent more than a few days in Puerto Rico. Let me state up front that since my little camera died just before my trip the photos taken by this island girl in Puerto Rico were taken from my phone (there are a few from my niece’s phone) and should not be compared to the fabulous photographs that Hector normally includes in our posts. But on to my trip.
Just as I was thinking that I needed to plan a visit to my family, my friend Katherine from Atlanta called me to tell me that her daughter, Kirstin, was going to get married in San Juan and invited us to the wedding.
We knew that we would be in the Southwest at that time of year, so I purchased a ticket from the Phoenix airport and we made our way to that city before my flight. Unfortunately, Hector had to stay behind to take care of Angel.
The wedding was to take place in Old San Juan, my favorite part of the city, so I booked an Airbnb apartment a couple of blocks from the wedding venues. Upon arrival, I took a taxi to Old San Juan thus avoiding driving or parking, which can be quite a hassle there due to the narrow streets.
My apartment had a lovely view of the old city from the balcony. I just love the old buildings, many of them freshly painted in bright colors. I love the architectural details and the balconies. It was a joy to be there.
I had not seen my friends Katherine and Erik for three years, and had not seen their daughter since she was a teenager (!). So I really looked forward to this reunion.
This was also an opportunity to see other friends. Janet and I met in 2007 during a leadership program, she was living in Boston at the time. She visited me once in Colorado and since that time she has moved back to Puerto Rico.
We met for brunch at Casa Cortes Chocobar, a lovely little restaurant that features chocolate in many of its yummy dishes. Janet and I caught up on each other’s lives and walked over to La Fundacion Casa Cortes and their art gallery, owned by the family who also own the restaurant.
The foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and inspire through their passion for Caribbean Art.
They were having a violin recital by children who have been studying the violin using the Suzuki Method. The recital was raising funds for them to travel to New York for a summer camp at Ithaca College. Adorable and fabulous.
Then it was time for wedding activities. Kirstin’s fiancee, Juan, was born in Puerto Rico, and his parents had the wedding “rehearsal” dinner at their lovely home in San Juan. Except that they invited all the wedding guests to the dinner, not just the wedding party, so it was actually a big party.
Because there were lots of Americans in attendance, they chose to serve only typical Puerto Rican food, had a presentation by Don Q Rum, one of the largest producers of rum in the world, and of course served several of their rums, and had a local Puerto Rican quartet playing live music. It was a lovely time.
The next day was the wedding day. The wedding was held in Plazuela La Rogativa, or the Plaza of the Religious Procession, a lovely little plaza with a famous bronze sculpture and a beautiful view of San Juan Harbor.
The legend of the sculpture goes that the governor ordered a procession to pray for the city to be saved from the British after Sir Abercrombie’s troops took control of the city. The British mistook the sights and sounds of the procession to mean that reinforcements had arrived and withdrew.
The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome and everyone else was quite elegant.
Since I worked with Katherine while she was pregnant with Kirstin, it was pretty cool to watch her “baby” getting married.
The guests watched the sunset as the wedding vows were exchanged – spectacular!
Then the group walked one block over to the Hotel El Convento for the reception.
The wedding and reception were fabulous and fun. I met some great people, got to dance all night with my friends from Atlanta and reminisce about our times there in the 80’s. My little smart phone could not possible capture the beauty or joy of these events, but I did get a few pics that captured the joyous spirit of the day.
Then all too soon, it was time to say goodbye to those friends. My sister, Marta, who lives in San Juan, picked me up. Marta is my half-sister, and we “rediscovered” each other in the last ten years so I was excited to spend time with her.
She and I just hung out together for a couple of days, and visited my nephew, Miguel, his wife Maria and their daughter, Arianna.
All of them are dog and animal lovers so I had a chance to meet lots of doggies.
The following day, my niece (my sister’s daughter), Marilourdes and her husband, Papo flew in from Houston and joined us.
During those first few days I also had a chance to get together for a fun lunch with some friends and colleagues from the 90’s when I worked in San Juan and Miami. It is wonderful when you work really hard with a group but are also able to have fun together.
Next the four of us drove to Ponce, my birth city, for a few days. I left Ponce when I was ten after my mother’s death. The last time I visited was over twenty years ago so it was a trip down memory lane.
It was time to see family – both my mother’s and father’s.
My father was the oldest of seventeen siblings, and I only have two aunts left, one, Titi (aunt) Doris who is 90 years old, lives in Ponce, and the other in Florida.
Some of my cousins cooked a fabulous lunch and Titi Doris had an open house so different cousins could visit throughout the afternoon. I have much fewer relatives on my mother’s side and I only got to see a couple of them. It is beautiful to see family after such a long time and still feel a strong connection.
We also visited the cemetery, specifically my mother and grandmother’s grave, and some of my aunts and uncles.
The dominoes were placed on my uncle’s grave by his grandson about a year ago, because his grandfather loved to play. They are still there, apparently some of the workmen play around with them sometimes.
The rest of the time my sister, niece and nephew-in-law toured around the city, and in the evenings we walked around the town plaza, which was across from our hotel. The plaza was much more vibrant when I was young than it is now, as shopping centers and other more modern places have lured people away from it. But the Parque de Bombas, which was a working fire station when I lived there, is now a historic landmark and museum.
The Ponce Cathedral is the place where I had my first communion.
And I remember the fountain well.
And, of course, we had many fabulous meals together. I was intent on checking off a number of Puerto Rican dishes and I succeeded!
The car trip continued and we drove over to the beach in the town of Isabela, where Miguel and Maria have a condo on the beach.
The ocean always nourishes my soul, and combining that with family made me so very happy.
We took walks on the beach, ate good food and just relaxed. It was short but sweet.
Then it was time to leave. This was the longest time my sister and I spent together, and I will never forget it. Altogether, a beautiful trip with friends, family, memories and lots of love.