8:19 a.m. Yesterday afternoon I headed back to my hotel in San Juan. I decide that I'll bring my swimsuit tomorrow and stay the afternoon on the west (oeste) side of the island. The beaches here are less crowded and the sun setting over the water promises to be spectacular. I'll get pics.
I pass an old pick-up truck loaded with freshly picked bananas. They are in huge bunches of probably a hundred bananas, still on the stalks. The stalks themselves are green and about the diameter of a baseball.
I almost fall asleep at the wheel a couple of times. The lack of sleep is catching up with me. Amazingly, I make my way back to the hotel alive and immediately fall into bed. I am out for three hours. When I wake up I decide to go out in the streets and take in some of the local color. (or colores, as we say in Pwerrto Reeco!) I put on a sundress and flip flops and walk down the 10 flights of stairs to the lobby. On the way down I decided that I hate this hotel and everybody associated with it.
I walk to the front desk and ask the clerk when the elevator will be fixed. I am greeted with a blank, slightly panicked smile. "Soon." he says with a friendly smile. I am powerless to that smile. The front desk clerk is adorable. He is bit young for me, but there's no law against looking. I smile back and head for the door, my foul mood suddenly lifting.
Outside it is not the sunny paradise I was anticipating. It is drizzly and overcaste, though still very warm. I walk a little ways down the street and am almost immediately approached by a mangy-looking homeless guy. He is emaciated and looks at me with hollow eyes asking for "un dolor or un quarter". I hand him my loose change. Usually I don't give money to the homeless, but this guy is obviously starving and I can't help but have compassion for him. I go to a few shops and decide that I could easily spend all my expense money on clothes.
As I leave a clothing store and walk down the street further I notice that the women here wear very tight, colorful clothes. And it doesn't matter how old or how big they are. I smile. Everyone is hurrying along with newspapers over their heads and umbrellas open. I am getting soaked but I don't care. It's warm and refreshing.
I stop for some fries at a barbecue place. There is a woman cutting potatoes by the counter and I call to her. "Lo siento," (that's how I start every sentence..by apologizing.. for my spotty Spanish, for being a stupid gringa...for staying in a fancy hotel down the street while she spends hours standing in front of a deep frier) "Lo siento, senorita, tengo las papas, por favor?" She turns her head and looks at me. I am a little taken aback. The right side of her face is covered in tumors that drag her mouth down into a macabre frown. The bone under her flesh is also affected and has distorted her mandible into a discordant asymmetry with the other, more delicate side. I've seen this before. Her tumors have probably been growning for a few years and will continue to do so for the rest of her life. Her prognosis isn't good. She can choose to go through painful surgeries to sheer off the extra bone growth and cut out the skin tumors, but they will only grow back over time.
I get my fries and eat them slowly while I stand under an awning. I watch pigeons picking through garbage across the street. I am thinking about how lucky I am.