A Darker Shade of Pale

10 Aug

Isla Verde Beach, San JuanWho knew that slathering on the sunscreen (well, if we want to be technical, I sprayed it, rather liberally) could result in lobster-colored flesh?  Three days in a row, for that matter?  

The beach was great, but it feels good to be back.  Especially since my lobster-skin is fading into something tan-like and it is no longer painful to put on clothes.  

Our vacation turned out to be wonderful and relaxing, though it took a little while to get that way.  

We do vacations the laid-back way: take a laptop and figure out what to do as we go along.  Give us one main fall-back plan (the beach, in this instance) and we’re good to go.  No plans typically equal a nice balance of rest and fun, rather than crazed dashing from attraction to attraction.

This time, it led to one crazy day.  Let’s just say it was…a culturally enriched day.  A day to experience what locals do, daily, even though we are pasty white, very obvious, non-locals.

Question: why do Google maps always give the impression that whichever city you are in is wide and open, with well-maintained infrastructure and happily organized city blocks?  You look at a map of the city, and the street-lines are all the same width, careening merrily across the page.  Except, in real-life, it’s not exactly like that at all.  The streets are crooked and about as wide as a toothpick, crammed with cars, and surrounded not by pretty views of beaches and palm trees, but by graffitied cement walls.

Another question: when you have the dilemma of paying $40, round-trip, to drive twenty minutes away versus paying a grand total of $3, which would you pick?  Probably the same one we picked: the cheap one.  

The bus.  The bus, which arrived promptly forty-five minutes after we sat down at the bus stop.  The bus, whose kind (kind of hostile, rather) driver turned us away when we had no quarters (Note to Bus Website: it would be nice if you had mentioned this), but honked us back on board when a nice elderly woman offered her last set of change.  The bus, which I can only liken unto riding an elevator to the hundredth floor after a button-happy child has slammed his greasy fist onto every single button between 1 and 91.  Oh, yeah, and throw in the fact that we were the only pasty-white pre-sunburn tourists who were headed to the Hard Rock Café?  Not a comfortable experience.  Needless to say, we opted for the fast, expensive way home*.  

Back in the paradise of our hotel, we decided to try not to leave again unless we had a good reason.  We came here to relax, dang it, not hide our rings and watches while riding a stuffy elevator bus through toothpick graffiti streets, only to get slow and wrong service at the Hard Rock Café!

After a good long talk (which may or may not have involved me crying out my stress on my husband’s comfy shoulder), we slept and awoke to a much more lovely rest-of-the-trip.

We beached, we read books, we baked and burned under the sun.  We ate delicious omelets served to us by the most adorable little waitress, Giovanna.  We played Canasta, we swam in the pool.  I refrained from writing a blog, even though I really wanted to.  

On our last day, we ventured back out of our paradise cocoon.  This time, we booked a tour (transportation included) to the Bacardi Rum Factory and the Castillo de San Cristobal (an old, very pretty, fort/castle thing).  We had the cutest little tour guide, Roberto de Jesus, who reminded me of a Puerto Rican Bob Balaban**.  Verdict: a much more relaxy-vacationy trip to the city.San Juan, Castillo de San Cristobal

And now? 

Home, again.  I felt like I was ten again, looking over the lights of Dallas-Fort Worth as we came in for our landing.  We had a wonderful vacation, but both of us felt ready to be back home in Texas.  Hopefully, I’ll remember this feeling next time I get sick of all the same-old stuff around here that makes me feel smothered.  

We came home to a slightly-shellshocked, extremely meowy kitty. (Our friends checked in on him while we were away, but still.  Time to re-establish the routine.)  

After one day of recovery, here it is: Monday again.  I feel refreshed, and so ready to write again.  I’ve hardly thought of my novel, but I guess that’s what vacation’s for, right?  To take a break, so that burn-out applies only to your tender lobster skin and not to your work.  To spend amazing amounts of free time with someone you love deeply.  To take time out of life to enjoy discovering a new place, all its quirks and unpleasantries included.  To pause and remember that the world is bigger than you, and you don’t know everything about everything.  

It was a good trip.  And now, it’s good to be home. 



*Though not much more comfortable – for some reason, we always got the feeling the thuggy drivers of the white van taxis were going to drop us off two hours away and try to sell us drugs.  This is probably because they acted all shady and didn’t ask where we wanted to go until halfway through the trip home.  Plus, on our first night, the only conversation our driver had with us was a very insistent, “If you want to go to the rain forest, call my friend Alberto.  He’ll hook you up.”

**One of the guys in Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.


7 Responses to “A Darker Shade of Pale”

  1. lifeofaprimadonna Monday / 10 August 09 at 3:26 pm #

    It sounds like you had a GREAT time!

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 11 August 09 at 9:17 am #

      Yes, mostly 🙂 Even though the first day was a bit stressful, my husband and I had a good conversation about it, and then everything got much better the rest of the time!

  2. Helen Monday / 10 August 09 at 5:50 pm #

    Ah, now I see why you were excited by the travel writing competition. It sounds like your holiday provided you with some good material and it’s great that you can write about the frustrating bits with such humour. I hope you continue to feel refreshed and relaxed long after the sunburn fades!

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 11 August 09 at 9:19 am #

      Yes, exactly! I saw your post and thought, boy, I have a lot I could write about on that subject! Of course, the vacation prize (to GREECE!!) seemed like a worthy motivator – I’ll have to look around and see if there are any similar contests here.

  3. jenniferneri Monday / 10 August 09 at 9:46 pm #

    will your vacation work it’s way into your story somehow?
    Actually, I think you are editing now, correct? That is something a rested mind is needed for!

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 11 August 09 at 9:28 am #

      I’ve been wondering that, too, and even found myself thinking about it while riding the bus. The feelings of being out of my element and uncomfortable definitely relate to my story, and it’s good to get in touch with those feelings in order to write well about them. It was also an interesting sensation to feel stressed out, but not be able to talk about it with my husband in the moment (You can’t really say out loud, “I’m scared that the dude sitting beside you is going to steal my diamond ring,” or, “This taxi driver is freaking me out!”) – bottling things up is not my style.

      That makes me think of my characters in more depth – now that I know how they act and react, how can I incorporate more things that are out of character for them, in a believable way? What situations would plunge them into this type of discomfort, and how do I communicate that they are acting in this unusual way?

      Wow. Long comment, sorry – you got me thinking 🙂 Thanks!

  4. jenniferneri Tuesday / 11 August 09 at 7:27 pm #

    Isn’t it wonderful how writing affects us daily? The need to get inside the heads of others, to understand them and their motives…something I never knew about myself until I began writing. Writing is called a solo endeavor, yet without watching and living with others there would not be nothing to write (at least for me, anyway).

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