Travel Series: Wanderlust takes Puerto Rico!

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” -Martin Buber

I have to admit…Puerto Rico was never considered as one of my top destinations. Might I dare say, I even labeled the island as ‘basic.’ Shame on me! Puerto Rico was a last minute birthday gift I decided to treat my fiance to because it didn’t require a passport (he seriously needs to work on changing this), it was fairly affordable, and it did not require to take many days off from work. I chose the city of Old San Juan. My fiance doesn’t care for the beach; he’s more of an artsy kind of guy. I knew he would appreciate the beautiful architecture and art of the oldest city in the U.S and territories. We left for a long weekend to enjoy the birthday festivities. Being of Puerto Rican descent, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to get in touch with my roots. I am terribly Americanized and I get shamed for it ALL THE TIME. I don’t think I can ever put into words the incredible energy this beautiful island has. You feel it the moment you step off the plane. It was more than just a weekend trip, it was truly an experience, and I left feeling proud and connected to the island. Alright, enough with the spiritual awakenings lol let’s get into the details!

A few fun facts about Puerto Rico:

  1. Puerto Rico is not a country or a U.S state. Due to the U.S governance, it is part of the Commonwealth and considered a U.S territory. However, people on the island are not allowed to vote in U.S presidential elections.
  2. Cock fighting is a popular blood sport in Puerto Rico, where two chickens get placed in a ring called the ‘cockpit’ and fight to the death…literally. However, this will cease due to Congress voting in favor of banning the sport in 2018.
  3. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. With 28,000 acres of lush tropical palms, it is definitely a sought after destination. We did not get to explore this beautiful rainforest due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. Last I’ve heard, it is up and running, so I definitely plan to go back!
  4. Puerto Rico coffee is AMAZING. Honestly! The conditions on the main island are excellent for growing quality coffee . I lived off cafe con leche while I was there.
  5. The Coqui frog is the official mascot of Puerto Rico. Endemic to the island, the frog is known for its timid ‘ko-kee’ evening sounds. Another fun fact, apparently the Coqui frog also lives in Hawaii! It is reported that the frogs were accidentally transported in a shipment of plants.

Puerto Rico has some of the liveliest and friendliest people I have ever encountered. Immediately stepping off of the plane, we were greeted with warm hospitality. Using excessive hand and facial gestures, they are expressive and their energy is infectious. The first night we landed there, we took an uber to our air bnb. Our driver was friendly, humorous, and conversational as she gave us suggestions of attractions to see around the city of Old San Juan. We reached our location around 4 am. We walked up to our home for the next few days, go to input the security code…and nothing. We couldn’t get in! Located on San Sebastián , a very popular tourist area and near all of the nightlife, a local bar owner saw we were having trouble and insisted on helping. Apparently, the building was correct but our security code was wrong. As we waited for a response from the air bnb owner, the bar owner insisted on us coming over for a few drinks. We dived into deep conversation over discounted drinks, and you would swear we were life-long friends. Encounters like this mean the world to me. In the U.S, we get so caught up with how busy our lives are, how stressful life can be, our everyday obstacles, that we forget easy going nature such as this exists! Around 5 am, we were able to get in contact with the air bnb owner, just in time before the bar closed for the night.

Only being on the island for three days, we took full advantage of the attractions closest to us. We spent our days walking and exploring the city, enchanted by splashes of colors throughout the buildings, blue cobblestones that paved the streets, and 500 years of history. Some of the most well known attractions we visited were El Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal, massive fortresses used as defenses against Spanish conquistadors nearly 500 years ago. By day, we visited numerous local art galleries and museums. We even visited the historical shanty town, La Perla, which we were advised by locals to never go to at night. I believe one of the locals exact words were, “Not even the police go there at night.” Yeah…say no more. One honorable mention is the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, a colonial era cemetery with construction dating back to 1863. Okay, so I know what are thinking. Why would anyone want to visit a cemetery? Honestly, we were just passing on the way to La Perla. After doing further research, it is reported to be one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, so why not? While at the cemetery, we were admiring the style of the tombstones. Elegant and marble life-like sculptures, these burial sites are truly a sight to see. The cemetery overlooks the ocean, which is believed to be symbolic of the journey over to the afterlife and originates from Spanish superstition and fear of death. First, I will say that I am a believer in the paranormal and after life. I’m not sure if my fiance previously was, but after our encounter with this cemetery, I am sure his beliefs were seriously altered. As we passed through the cemetery, we noticed a burial site that looked like a mini mosque. It was massive, dome shaped, with stairs leading to doors on all sides. One of the entrances leading indoors looked like it had been ripped open, I’m assuming from Hurricane Maria. My fiance was fascinated with the site and its architecture, so much that he insisted that I take a photo of him sitting on the stairs. After I took the photo, I noticed he proceeded to walk up the stairs to take a peak inside. I warned him that it was probably not the best idea, that it can come off as disrespectful to the spirits resting there. Initially shrugging me off, I urged him to follow my advice. He agreed and we continued exploring around the cemetery. This is when things got a bit spooky. I did not see what he saw, I can only relay the information. According to him, he saw a dark figure hiding behind a burial site with a black cloak floating off the ground. He was SHOOKETH. I’ve never seen him so scared before. He insisted that we leave the cemetery immediately. While on our way out, the wind seem to pick up and dozens of crows were flying over us. Although I didn’t see what he saw, I believed him. It was a feeling, you know. And plus, I warned him *Kanye shrug.* You can see the picture of the site in the slideshow below along with other locations we explored.

Our exploring didn’t stop during the day. By night, we were checking out all of the local restaurants, bars, and lounges. Nightlife is CRAZY in Puerto Rico! The streets are ridiculously busy up until the wee hours in the morning. Also, the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18. With that being said, us ‘old folks’ were outnumbered. The night spots that stuck out the most to me was La Factoría and Douglas. La Factoría is a bar that gives you a speak easy vibe with its hidden passages and entry ways, which creates a really cool atmosphere. There are multiple rooms inside with different genres of music. Douglas is a corner pub with friendly staff and the most amazing Coconut Mojitos I have ever tasted in my life! And trust me, they sneak up on you. Both places are highly recommended.

Douglas has amazing Coconut Mojitos for half the price!

You can’t talk about Puerto Rico without mentioning the food. Honestly, I gained like 5 pounds just over a course of a weekend, but I loved every single minute of it. Some popular mentions are Arroz con Gandules, Tostones, Alcapurrias, Mofongo, and Empanadillas. I indulged in it ALL. These foods are not unfamiliar to me because they were part of my childhood growing up in NYC, which is where the majority of Puerto Ricans migrated to during the political immigration dated back to the 1800s. So basically, I was in heaven and was excited for my fiance to try these foods as well. I also can’t forget to mention the desserts I indulged in, Piragua, Tembleque,and Flan…ugh, take me back! Now! My fiance also tried his first mango EVER in Puerto Rico. We were seated at a restaurant, and the servers started passing out free mangoes pulled from the tree in the back. I don’t think mangoes in the U.S will ever measure up for him.

I will always cherish the memories spent in Puerto Rico. I never expected to have such an amazing time. My fiance loved it so much that I’m convinced he is tempted to move there. The culture and people were magical. I always felt ashamed for not truly embracing my roots, not necessarily by choice, but because of my American upbringing. My parents did not even raise me on the Spanish language, although both are fluent. I can’t tell you how many glares I get from other Hispanics with my broken Spanish. But on that island, I felt accepted. It’s the weirdest and most loving feeling to meet someone in a place you’ve never been before, and just by looking at you, they know you are part of the culture. A local bartender at Douglas was conversing with us as she made our mojitos, and she looks at me and says, “You’re Puerto Rican, right?” I asked her, “How did you know?” She told me that my physical features, my spirit, and even the way I spoke, gave it away. Laughing, I told her that I don’t speak Spanish very well and it was my first time to the island. Without a glance of judgment, she says, “Welcome home. It was only a matter of time.” And in that moment, I realized she was right. I may not speak the language, but I cannot deny the feeling inside when I hear salsa music. Or the fact that I can’t keep myself from dancing when I hear salsa music. Or how anxious I get, scrambling to get Coquito and Pasteles during the holidays. I cannot deny that my roots are mixed with Taino, African, and Spaniard blood. The traditions I grew up with are deeply rooted. The island, at least to me, represents pride and acceptance. I had come home for the first time.

Travel Series: Wanderlust takes Morocco!

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Traveling holds a special place in my heart. When people ask when I am at my absolute happiest, the answer is always the same- TRAVELING. Doesn’t matter where it is, can even be a local trip! There is something incredibly beautiful about traveling to a new place, without having a clue of what to expect, and learning the culture of that place. Morocco was one of those destinations that surprised me in many ways. I will admit, I was definitely culture shocked. Morocco has very different social norms than Western countries, especially for woman. I only spent a day there, but the experience taught me so much about this country’s rich culture. I left that day feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the experience.

So a few fun facts about Morocco:

  1. Morocco is located in Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. I was able to visit for a day due to his close proximity to Spain. Took a ferry to Tangier and then a bus to Marrakech.
  2. Visitors from the U.S. among a few other countries, are allowed to stay in Morocco for up to three months without a visa. Extended visit anyone?
  3. Tea is the national drink of Morocco. By the way, their mint tea is TO DIE FOR!
  4. Morocco is one of the oldest recognized countries in Africa, declaration dating back to the year 788.
  5. BONUS: I’m sure this is not only for Morocco, but relevant. There are two types of camels- dromedary camels, which have one hump, and Bactrian camels, which have two humps.  I rode a dromedary camel in Morocco. I was sitting SO HIGH; the view was breathtaking.

As you can see in my pictures, I was dressed modestly. Being on a college tour, we were warned beforehand to make sure that we were not showing a lot of skin while exploring. Gender roles are much more defined in Morocco, and women need to take extra precautions when on the streets of Morocco. Showing excessive skin, drinking and smoking in public, and public affection are considered extremely disrespectful. We were warned to not even make eye contact with men! The best tip I can give you, especially when traveling to another country, is to research social norms first. Granted, as a visitor they do not expect you to follow protocol strictly, but it’s a huge sign of respect for their culture.

The streets of Marrakech are extremely busy! If I could compare it to a visual, I would say it very much reminds me of ‘Aladdin.’ Outside markets lined with so many products and goods, it will make your head spin. Locals hustling and bustling in the streets, looking for their next consumer. Some goods worth mentioning include rugs, lamps, spices, olives, leathers, and clothing. Their clothing is absolutely gorgeous, especially their wedding attire! Rich colors and fabrics, with intricate stitching. Honestly, they put our clothes to shame. I definitely took advantage and bought various spices and homemade skin products. I was super tempted to buy a hookah as well, but the sensible part of me thought about trying to get through customs with that, and I let go of that dream very quickly lol. It’s also good to note that it is extremely easy to get lost, or wander into the parts not suitable for tourists. With that being said, please do not explore these streets alone; it’s best to go with a group of people you can trust. Petty crimes are high in Morocco, especially among tourists. However, it is considerably safe, just stay cautious.

While in Morocco, we had the opportunity to eat. The main meal is usually around mid-day and the course usually commences with tea. Eating with your hands is considered a time honored tradition, meaning it is a method that has been practiced for many years in the culture. It is important to be mindful of which hand you are eating with. Eating with your right hand is considered acceptable, as your left hand is considered impure and to be saved for bathroom duties and cleaning chores. We were served Harira, an authentic Moroccan soup made of lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, and meat. Honestly, it was not my preferred dish. Nonetheless, I ate it as a sign of respect. We were also served couscous, a staple dish of North Africa made of grains and topped with meat and vegetables. Very comparable to what we know as rice. I definitely enjoyed the couscous. It didn’t even occur to me to take pics…sorry folks!

Overall, my trip was a once in a lifetime experience! The people we interacted with were very friendly and helpful. I learned a different way of life and got to experience it firsthand. I was in awe of the locals’ hard work and craftsmanship. Every textile good seemed to tell a story with their unique embroidery. The culture was eye opening and continues to put much perspective in mind, even to this day. I am more than mindful when interacting with people from other countries. What seems normal for us, does not necessarily mean it is something they are accustomed to. I believe everyone needs an experience like this. Immense yourself in the culture. Be present in the moment. Cherish it. Most importantly, LEARN. Step out of your comfort zone and tiny box of normalcy with an open mind. I would love to go back and stay for a longer time. There is so much to see and honestly, a day was not enough.

Racially BLURRED.

Netflix Original Series
No copyright infringement is intended

It’s 2019. Donald Trump is the U.S. President. Racism and prejudice seems to be very evident in society. Women are losing rights to their own bodies. Wars are still erupting around the world. We are one comment away from North Korea unleashing their mass weapons of destruction. What a time to be alive! We are at a point in history where social awareness is at an all time high, and past and current injustices are being brought to light. Information readily available at the touch of our fingertips.

This month, Netflix released an original limited series called “When They See Us.” A series based on the true story of the Central Park Five, which took place in New York City in 1989. For those who are unfamiliar with this story, it is about five teenagers ranging from ages 14-16, who were wrongfully accused of beating and raping a Caucasian women in her late 20’s, among other charges. Four teenagers were African American and one was Hispanic. I think it is important to mention races and ages for the simple fact that the investigation was not carried out properly. One can assume that this was due to discrimination. These teenagers endured police brutality. They were questioned and coerced without a guardian present, leading to signed waiver of rights. Ultimately, this led to their downfall. They received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years; they served between 6 to 13 years, collectively, for crimes they did not commit. They were just kids. I have to admit, it was a painful and difficult series to watch, but I feel it was equally important to watch. It’s a harsh realization and a major reality check that simply cannot be ignored. If you have not seen this serious, I strongly urge you all to check it out. I give fair warning, it might emotionally affect you.

Photo provided by New York Daily Times
The Central Park Five

I have always been aware of the disadvantage that people of color hold in society. I have never been blind to the discrimination and prejudices that occur. More and more stories of police shootings and brutality continue to surface. It has stirred an uneasiness within me for my safety; an indescribable anxiety and worry specifically for the men in my life. Originally being from NYC and of Puerto Rican descent, I have two nephews who are young adults and live there. Who experience and witness tragedies more often than some of us have ever endured. My sisters and I fear for their safety everyday. I have three more nephews that are growing up in that environment and sadly, will become aware of the injustices as they grow older. I am engaged to an African man, and with that alone, the uneasiness hits closer to home. Every time he steps out of the house, particularly at night, I become uneasy. If I can’t reach him and he is home later than expected, I automatically think the worst. It’s sad to say that my usual first two thoughts are that he has either been involved in a car accident, or he has been arrested. Every single day that he is away from me, at any given time, I fear for his safety.

This past weekend, that anxiety became a reality. He was doing a late night music performance. After the performance, some unfortunate events occurred, and he was on his way to the hospital to support a friend. Around 3:30 am, he was on his way back to me. He called twice but I missed his calls. Around 4:30 am, I woke up and realized he was not home. I called him to get an update…no answer. I called him repeatedly from 4:30-5:30 am, worried sick, creating all sorts of scenarios in my head. The panic continued to build each phone call he did not pick up. I called every friend I could think of, friends that he might have been with. Anyone who could offer any kind of information to ease my mind. I googled local car accidents, I searched the arrest inquires for Hillsborough County. All I could think of is how I missed his phone calls and something must be wrong. It was not like him AT ALL to not answer my calls, or even be out that late at night. After finding no information, I decided there was nothing more I could do. I fell asleep praying for his well being. About 15 minutes later, I received a phone call from him. He was pulled over, for a claim of a faulty light over the license plate. The police searched the car thoroughly and let him go once they found nothing. I’m not sure how a faulty light coincides with a car search…I’m just happy that he was safe and able to come home.

I’m not sure if people of color will ever feel safe in their own country. I’m not sure if they will ever be given a fair chance in society. I will never understand how five teenagers of color were not given a fair trial and were coerced into a false confessions, with no substantial evidence to prove that they committed the crimes. Furthermore, I will never understand how a Caucasian man like Ted Bundy is given multiple trials, able to represent himself, and allowed to do research in the library freely, without handcuffs. The treatments are completely different and it is so blatantly obvious. How can you overlook that? Some people may not agree with my opinion, and that is okay. It is solely my opinion and I don’t represent the people in this country. But I refuse to ignore certain situations that continue to surface. I can’t ignore that fear.

“No it’s ME, not YOU.”

“Ego trip: a journey to nowhere.” -Robert Half

So originally, I had a COMPLETELY different topic to write about in mind. I am free-styling this post and if anything seems confusing or contradicting, please do not hesitate to reach out for clarification. BUT after a chain of events over the past few days, plus a little hard-core self-reflection, paired with an intriguing conversation I had with my fiancé and his best friend this morning, I felt compelled to write about this topic, generally. THE EGO. The ego is defined as a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. In spirituality, the ego can be an obstruction to enlightenment. To break it down even further, enlightenment is nirvana (absolute pure bliss and non-attachment). If we absolutely want to be honest with ourselves, we are all guilty of ego. Guilty of rearing its ugly head. Guilty of reacting off the ego. Guilty of validating our feelings, emotions, reactions, or any bad habits because of it. But at some point, when do we call bullshit? When do we call ourselves out and nip it in the bud? When do we stop thinking this is appropriate, and consciously try to change this within ourselves? Along with these questions, comes more daunting questions that seem to cause anxiety within me…how long will this transformation take place, and at what cost?

After my blog about the importance of self-care, I decided to put my money where my mouth is. You know, practice what I preach. This past weekend I tried to do more things that I found enjoyable. For example, laying by the pool. I said no to events that I did not want to go to. I stayed home, blasted music, and danced around. I stressed the importance of enjoying my own company. I was off to a good start, right? Well, I failed to think about the way I reacted to certain situations, was also a form of self-care. And let me tell you, I failed MISERABLY in that department. What started out as a minor disagreement with my fiancé, turned into a full fledged pity fest by the end of the weekend. It left me broken, drained, and full of wallowing. Throughout the whole situation, I focused on MY feelings, MY pain, how I felt certain events should have been handled. My ego was so provoked, so agitated, and very ugly. It was not a proud moment of mine. And with that, surfaced feelings of past events and pain. My ego would not allow me to let it go. It would not allow me to move on from my anger. It turned a mini argument into a whole unnecessary evaluation of my relationship. Then it transformed into a self-evaluation where I spent way too much time loathing myself. At the time I focused on the hurtful things my fiancé said to me in those moments because he spoke out of anger, but, I cannot take responsibility for what he does. I must take responsibility for my own actions.

That Monday night was the beginning of a new moon in Gemini. But more specifically, it was a dark moon. A dark moon signifies endings to cycles. It allows energies to be cleared to make way for new, fulfilling energy. (Side note: I’m into astrology and spirituality. I am not an expert, but I know a few things. If anyone would like me to dive deeper into these topics in future blogs, please let me know). I decided to mediate that night. I was intentional of what I wanted to let go. Using Palo Santo, I was intentional of detoxing. Clearing all negativity. I played high vibrational music and focused on what was bothering me internally. I prayed for clarity. I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed to rid the blockage in my chakras. I was surrounded by my crystals, incense, the light gleaming from my salt lamp, and music that seemed to drown out my surroundings the deeper I fell into my meditation. After 20 minutes, I grabbed my journal. It felt as if I was possessed; my writing poured out of me. My hands cramping and scribbling across the pages, the main message was evident- IT IS NOT OKAY TO SELF DESTRUCT. I have allowed my ego to be destructive, and in turn, it caused me pain. In the end, no one holds that power but yourself.

I’ve allowed my “self-importance” to play victim, instead of using it positively and effectively. I’m learning that people will hurt you. They will do unjust things to you. They will respond unfavorably, but how YOU react is your ultimate power. In my recent experience, and based off the conversation I had this morning, my ego has been destructive. It has blocked my happiness, and possibly my blessings. I am aware. My feelings and emotions are not more important than someone else’s. I am learning. And please understand as I write this, my transformation for the better good is not complete. I am growing. I hope I’ve sparked something internally in all who read this, not to punish and criticize yourselves, but to look deep and recognize that at times, you may be the problem. How can you change this for the better? What steps to do you need to take to change this? And most importantly, what good will come from taking those steps? Stay light, my friends. Be kind to yourselves. Don’t be afraid to do the work. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be honest with yourselves without the bias. May the rest of your week be filled with infinite good vibes.