Well ... I'm back from Puerto Rico, and have finally a few moments to tell some things about my trip.
The first thing I'd like to say about Puerto Rico is, that the people here seem very nice. They're friendly and will smile and say hello as you pass them in hallways and on the street. That's the first thing I'd like to say.
The next thing I want to say is that I've never been so grateful to God Almighty in Heaven for seat belts in my entire life. Ever. Period.
Turn signals, people! They're standard on ALL VEHICLES! Try 'em! PLEASE!!
"Driving" as you may know it in the United States does not exist here. I've never driven in places like New Yawk or Noo Joyzee, so I can't comment on those places. What I CAN say is that the IT contact person here, Robert(o), is FROM New York -- specifically, the Bronx, I believe he said. And HE told me that people down here are CRAZY when driving. So -- there you have it. I didn't really need him to tell me that, but having him confirm that even NY drivers aren't as bad was something of a confirmation of my suspicions.
There are some other things about PR that are sort of interesting. For instance, the sky hasn't really been blue since I've been here. It's kind of a humid-blue, the same sort of grayish off-toned blue that I remember from the south eastern US. The humidity is high, but there is a steady and nice sea breeze blowing most of the time. It's not an obnoxious wind like in Chicago or, even worse, where I grew up in California. It's a gentler, quieter breeze that has a sea-mist smell (most of the time) and has learned its manners from its world travels. It's unobtrusive and welcome, polite and helpful. Being here has reminded me how much I love, and miss, the ocean. And I occasionally flatter myself with the belief that the ocean loves and misses me too. (Yeah, whatever.)
Anyway, the food in PR is very interesting. I've had two absolutely OUTSTANDING meals while I've been here (and I have less than 24 hours to go, so I doubt I'll top those two). One was at Ruth's Chris restaurant, and that's kind of unfair, since it's technically a Texas restaurant that's grown and spread. The prime beef they receive is second to none on earth, and is some of the most deliciously perfect beef you'll ever find. If you haven't been to a Ruth's Chris Steak House yet, please go and treat yourself to an exquisite meal. It's horrifically expensive and worth every penny, I promise.
So, I don't count Ruth's Chris. By the bye, I had a Kobe sirloin, which is from Japan, the famous Kobe marbled beef. I must tell you it was divine.
Sorry, I digress. And now my mouth is watering.
All right, so I can't really count Ruth's Chris. It would have been a horrible shock if that meal had been BAD, so let's scratch that one. The other fantastic dinner came from a place called The Parrot Club in the district known as Old San Juan. I don't know why it's ''Old", because most of the buildings down there were in much better condition and maintenance than the area where we were staying. But I suspect it's because that is where San Juan originally started, and it has since sprawled over the rest of the area and eventually swallowed the surrounding neighborhoods and suburbs so that now it's a metro area of a million people. The district is clean, well-lit and packed with high-end hotels, bars and restaurants, and I suppose if I'd spent more time there, shops and boutiques. It's the area wherein conventions are held, and where the huge (and I do mean HUGE) cruise ships port for the vacationers to shop and play on dry land. Some of the streets are paved with very unique and attractive bricks made from local minerals that are naturally a violet-hued color. The buildings seem reminiscent of New Orleans style architecture (based solely on the photos of NO that I've seen, never having been there), but are colored with bright Caribbean vibrancy. Not garishly so, but lots of yellows, turquoise or aquamarine ... colors along those lines. And plenty of white. The area is a sort of peninsula that juts into the water from the east as is surrounded on the west by the ocean(s), so there's really only one way in or out.
Of course, those lovely violet-brick streets are absolutely CRAMMED with cars, taxis and pedestrians. There isn't much of a sidewalk to speak of on a lot of those streets, so you spend as much time negotiating your way through the crowds as you do enjoying the sites. It was more warm and humid that I cared for to be walking about, but the breeze courteously kept me from dripping in sweat, and the ocean whispered quietly in the background to remind me that it was there. As we walked along the southern end of the peninsula on the inlet where the cruise ship docks the wave action was a calm lapping against the stone and concrete walls that kept the water at bay. The northern side of the peninsula was the Atlantic, with its tumbling, rough-housing waves foaming and playing at the beach.
So, Old San Juan was a pleasant experience. On one of those narrow, cobblestone streets was this Parrot Club bar and restaurant. We decided on that, and went in at the enticement of a Puerto Rican girl who would have been just as much at home in New York as she was here on her "Island of Enchantment". She challenged us with the statement that there was no place better; we took her up on her statement and were seated almost immediately (which I thought was a nice touch). Several beers and not enough appetizers later, we were served our meals. I had a skirt steak with a very Puerto Rican name that was glazed with a light, not-too-sweet barbeque sauce that was nothing short of extraordinary. It was topped with chopped green onions, and served beside a chile stuffed with goat cheese and a sweet corn tamal. Now, I thought "sweet corn" was something like a desert, implying that the base was corn meal and the dish was sweet. It actually meant just what it said: the base was sweet corn meal, not SWEETENED corn meal, and the tamal was savory. So, that was ... meh. I'm not a big fan of tamals, evidently.
At any rate, the meal was delectable. The skirt steak was tender and juicy, cooked perfectly, and despite the immense amount of chewing that comes along with that cut of beef, every morsel was enjoyable. I left nothing of the steak on my plate and was sad when it was over. One of the local beers -- it appears to be, by far, the most popular -- is called Medalla (pronounced med-EYE-ya) Light. It's a light beer. It's better than other light beers I've had, and I was actually grateful it wasn't any more robust than it was, but it was definitely a light beer. Oh well.
Those were the two best meals I had while I was here, and I would not hesitate to have them both again, even if I had to pay for them myself. Absolutely fantastic. If you're coming to Puerto Rico at any time, don't miss the Parrot Club and their skirt steak, and don't deny yourself Ruth's Chris, either. You haven't lived fully until you've had a Ruth's Chris steak.
So, now, here are some thoughts that ran through my head, but thankfully not out of my mouth, at some other places I've eaten.
"Oh, look ... more plantains."
"What's THAT smell??"
"Am I supposed to EAT that, or is it a decoration?"
"Did they bring this from home? Did their mother cook it?"
"So ... you eat this EVERY Christmas? I'm sorry."
"Wow, there really ARE 101 ways to cook a plantain, aren't there?"
"Your definition of 'good' and mine are very, very different."
"Please God, don't let this come with plantains."
"Okay, I'm sure that's not supposed to smell like that."
"What part of the animal is that?"
"Wait a minute ... is that even edible??"
"You really, REALLY like pigs here, don't you?"
"Three milks? Like what -- cow, goat and say, cat?"
"What do you mean there's no English equivalent for this?"
There were others, of course, but I've tried to be polite and grateful, because as I mentioned, the people were warm and friendly and meant well. They deserve to be treated graciously.
Finally, I'm home at last. This entry is a collection of thoughts and things that I jotted down while I was there on the "Isle of Enchantment" (as they like to refer to it), and some final, closing things now that I'm home. I've never been gone on a business trip for so long, it failed miserably, and it was at BEST embarrassing. At worst, it was catastrophic for the product. But all should be well again on June 22, after which I will very likely have to travel far and wide again to roll the product out once more. For the last time, I hope. And maybe -- just maybe -- I won't have to go and do this after all. Perhaps by then, the manager I work for will trust his full-time resource (whose job description says "software deployment" and includes a statement about 40% travel -- unlike MINE) enough to send HER to these places to do this. I can always be reached by phone for help if needed.
*Sigh.* Well. It's over. And the best part of any trip is coming home to a loving and wonderful family and being able to bask in their welcome.
I can breathe again.