On Solo Travel and French Kissing

Sure, solo travel has its risks. Getting mugged, beat up, getting lost, feeling lonely, doing something stupid you wouldn’t have done if someone was there to talk you out of it are all possibilities.   But think of the benefits. On the benefits list I would include again getting lost and doing something stupid you wouldn’t have done if someone was there to talk you out of it, because define “stupid”. One may define a situation of swerving the car off to the side of the road to jump out to chase a moose into the woods for a photo as stupid. In my defense, I grew up in So Cal where wildlife safety was not a topic beyond rattle snakes. Moose etiquette was not in the curriculum so it was not until showing off pics of a moose blurred between trees that the sharp inhales and wide eyes clued me in that moose trampling is a thing.  How about a photo shoot of a grizzly about twenty feet away napping soundly? Truly, I don’t know what woke him up in the second half of the photos but they look gre



There is nothing like a good pedicure. Add to the generally cathartic experience an ocean view from a quaint historic town, cobblestone-fronted nail shop that just happens to share space with a wine shop and you’ll be hesitant to do a google review just so others don’t overrun your new favorite place. Yeah, that’s right, such a place exists. The ambiance of the place can’t be beat. Latin-vibe music and decor, only describable as pleasantly gaudy, greet the unsuspecting guests. From my perch on the mosaic tile-covered platform with the narrow stairs between me and my travel companion, I sink into the soft seat cushion and lay back on a pile of pillows sipping my sangria and enjoying the slather between each individual toe. Ahhhh. 

What a chance, an hour-long captive, local interviewee! How could I resist? After the typical pleasantries where I ask far too much, far too eagerly for the less socially confident among us to not visibly cower, I dive into local life. One item of particular interest: “What’s with the orange barricades and 24/7 police blocking off that street just over there?” 

It just didn’t fit when strolling through tree-lined streets with open grassy plazas surrounded by old world architecture, 500-year old buildings, flowering hanging plants and scroll-work iron lamp posts. This outdoor ambiance went on for block after block on the cobblestone grid streets too narrow to have been intended for anything but horse and carriages from a time long past. Bright orange barriers didn’t fit the scene where you can see a large, white-columned building with beautiful landscaping and lighting all around at the end of the block. 

“Because of riots,” she said as if succinctly stating the obvious. I’ve only been here a day so my Spanish ears haven’t quite fully perked up yet and even my broken English detector is a little rusty. But I’m piecing it together. The accented statement of the obvious, the look of the impressive white edifice, the significant investment of police department budget on 24/7 guarding, it must be the governor's mansion. 

Risking another statement-of-the-obvious response, I venture, “why do they riot?”


She was looking at my toes so missed my blank stare. I’m fortunate that I travel with a companion who speaks better every-language than me and whose brain functions at about light speed compared to my Sunday-stroll pace with its meandering paths style, because I needed him for this one. Now I’m not sure if he is fortunate or not that as my travel companion he has to serve as interpreter much of the time and join me for all kinds of things that he may not have chosen for his own agenda such as a Sunday strolls with meandering paths. Take, for example, the limber. 

In 1928, Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot who first flew across the Atlantic, spent a spell in this special place where he is said to have enjoyed a frozen juice served in a cup and it was named for him from then on. I wonder at how expressive his enjoyment must have been for it to have been memorable enough for such an honor. Locals describe memories of childhood when they would buy limbers on their way home from school from the windows of the ladies in town. All the kids knew which houses had the limbers. 

I learned of limbers and the childhood memories from a small coffee stand at the end of a narrow, waterfront, pigeon-claimed park where the proprietor was good natured and chatty. The perfect victim for my far-too-eager questioning. We wanted to try something local and he provided a cream-based limber dropped in espresso. Starbucks has nothing to beat it. I asked for decaf. He was confused so I thought maybe I was ignorant of their word for it so asked for decaffeinated coffee. Not computing…coffee with no caffeine? That finally made sense. His response to my request: “Where are you from? Do they have that in California?” Damn. Well, this thing was so good I decided I could live without sleep that night. 

All of this is par for the course when traveling with me: a partially closed wrought iron gate that looks like it may or may not be private property? A long narrow path that could lead to anything or nothing but looks inviting and can’t be passed up? A poor defenseless shop owner on which to subject my rabid curiosity? I’m in…and so are you, travel companion! Hence the limbers! You’re welcome! But the kicker was when I made said travel companion join me for an excursion on the way to the airport to re-find our limber espressos. We still made our flight despite waiting for my coffee owner friend to open an hour late because he had some morning errands to run including a doctor's appointment for his aunt. I know this, of course, because I had to ask. I can tell you lots about his life after our ten total minutes of friendship (interrogation?) spread over two limber espresso purchases. I digress.

I shift my blank stare at the pedicurist to a quizzical one at my travel companion. “Ah, yes, the power outages,” he responds when he sees I’m not going to get there on my own. The story that follows of what this place was like for those trying to live a normal life after Hurricane Maria in 2017 is unbelievable. Our pedicurist tells of being the lucky one with power back on after four months when some friends and family went without for close to a year. 

This kick starts a thought experiment. Could I live without power? I was sure I could. My survivalist brain was in invention mode. I could use the propane grill to cook, go for a drive to charge my phone in the car, use battery-powered lanterns and burn candles. I’d be fine, in fact, it would be an adventure. Then I think back to the crisis of losing power when they were doing road work a few months back. Even with a month’s advance warning of the exact date and four hour time span they would be shutting down the power, the inhumanity of no Wi-Fi led to the desperation of escaping to a Starbucks within about an hour. Ok, four to twelve months of no power could be a potential inconvenience when you put it like that. 

During the recovery period from Hurricane Maria, the lack of infrastructure of the aging power grid became not just painfully obvious but created a host of financial and political problems. The recovery was not smooth and has not yet been fully accomplished. Hurricane Fiona moved through about a month before the start of my lasting relationship (interrogation?) with our pedicurist. The PTSD from Maria was real. Riots for “lights” made sense. 

Our time with the sangria and pedicure was educational and now it was time to take to the town and find a place that would represent the local flavor of this dynamic place. The traditional local foods are to me fusions of Hispanic food with a Caribbean twist. The smells of grilling meats, peppers, herbs mingled well in the warm tropical night air with the clear skies full of stars and the sounds from pubs on either side of those narrow, history-laden roads. This is what exploring was made for. We were happy with a sauntering stroll with no destination in mind, happy to end up wherever we ended up. I’m told this is the true definition of optimism. It’s not an overconfidence in the outcome that you want but an ability to be happy regardless of outcome. That was where we were that night. Optimistic for amazing or comedically bad food regardless of destination. 

As is my custom, instead of doing actual research, I asked a local I had met in a Lyft, or in line at some market, or who was working behind a counter somewhere, for a food recommendation. In this case we ended up with a recommendation for a new Argentinian restaurant a few narrow blocks from where we were in town. Not exactly the local flavor I was going for but if the locals like it, we should try it. Finding it was its own form of adventure. It was too new to be on the maps and many of the buildings didn’t have much by way of signage so we took a fly at the huge, dark wood doors with the Argentinian flag flying above. The flag was a good give away, though not good enough for us to not walk by it about four times. 

The stucco walls, vintage light fixtures, iron accents, soft Latin music created the environment to inspire a quiet dinner with a bottle of wine or two, and perhaps my travel companion. We had just started with the wine when the riot-triggering lights went out. Complete darkness, as if our conversation during pedicures had brought it on. No one had knocked on wood. They must not do that here.

I was utterly amused and found this exciting, partially because we had unintentionally picked a restaurant where those big wood front doors opened directly towards the barricade straight up to the governor's mansion. Now this could be experiencing local culture the non-tourist way for sure! While waiting for the show that was not-to-be to begin, I happily continued to sip on my wine. 

The kitchen staff had cleared out of the pitch black dark rear of the building to cluster around the front doors and even wander into the street to see the sight of the fully dark town and chat with the police who were standing there like they could use some excitement in their night. When our waiter glanced back at us, my travel companion, who speaks better every-language than me, asked about candles in the native tongue and was told they didn’t have any because they had only been open a few months and hadn’t had a blackout before. I’m thinking they need to get out more and ask the cops why they hang out there across the street at that blockade. It’s the lights, I can now confidently share. In a flash, phone flashlights from multiple of our blackout companions were propped around our table to create a blinding glare which was a great touch for the effort but not necessarily the ambiance. I couldn’t help but have my mood brightened by the situation.

As one of the phone flashlights panned the room, we saw that we were the only optimists, happy with any outcome. The place was completely empty but for us and the staff. It was so dark we hadn’t even seen others around us get up and leave. 

Once it was established the lights were not going to be immediately coming back on and the kitchen staff realized we weren’t in any way deterred from spending the evening with them, they served us an amazing meal off the grill within a few minutes. 

There was no riot in the streets of Old San Juan that night but the Malbec was fantastic. 


  1. Ah yes, a true artist of the highest form. A paragon of what it means to be a blog poster. Every word, every sentence, an epiphanal moment that will stay with me in a both haunting memory and fanciful dream for the rest of my life. I have read this blog post as I have wept over the beauty of art and nature itself; With pure existential dread at it's impossible eloquence, complexity, and sheer quality. As I trudge on through my life I shall think back on this paradigm shift in my life; the day I read this blog post. Bravo. You have changed me in such a way I shall never be the same. Every step in my life and every thought I have will have in some way an influence in which you have imprinted onto me. To any who may come to the epicenter of the splendor that is this blog, look on the humble and yet monumental origins in which it finds itself and bask in the sheer awe and glory of how I know for a fact more than anything else in my life will be true; That this will be the greatest single series of art pieces a human being can consume in their lifetime.

    P.S. Who is the woman in the photos? Only part of the experience I was left with confusion about.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

On Solo Travel and French Kissing

Nature’s Jelly Beans