Raggaeton: Raggaeton was bad enough a couple years ago when "Gasolina" started popping up at every random house party and dive bar, but it became even worse when I was subjected to it 24/7 in Puerto Rico. Whether I was trying to read my book peacefully on the beach or trying not to pull my hair out when we were lost for the 7th time in the rental car, those around me insisted on blasting this awful form of music. The signature beat that repeats itself in every single song is stuck in my head, haunting me wherever I go.
Octopus salad: Yes, octopus salad. Just the name of it is gross enough, but the taste adds to the grossness even more. It's basically chopped up octopus tentacles mixed with celery, onions, and spices thrown in water. It's like a much stinkier, drippier version of tuna salad. Samantha told me it would taste like chicken, but it definitely did not.
Mosquitos: This is self-explanatory. I have (literally) over 100 mosquito/spider/other sick insect bites all over my body. They have no shame and will bite anywhere (including my ears, face, elbow, back, butt, fingers, toes...I could go on and on). Also, they bite right next to or on top of previous bites. These mosquitos were like none I had ever seen before. It made things even worse when a nice employee at the resort told us they only bite gringas (us white people) and leave the locals alone.
Rental car prices: Over $80/day. Ridiculous. And we had no choice, that was the saddest part.
Highways: I'm being gracious when I call them highways. The expressways and/or roads on the island are labeled by numbers (these range from 1 to 999), with highway 625 right next to 626 right next to 627, etc. Also, these roadways abruptly split, with two lanes going to the left and two lanes going to the right. In addition, there is no warning as to whether or not an exit will be on the left or right; it varies. And to make things even more complicated, the people we were getting directions from did not know the numbers of any of the roads. They would say, "Take your 4th left, go for a long time until the fire station, take the last exit, follow the flow of traffic, turn right at the 'no flammable materials' sign, then get on the highway that goes west." We were lost for hours, and the "fire station" turned out to be a subway station.
Sour cream: I am in love with sour cream, and actually just all dairy products in general. I was very disappointed each time I tasted Puerto Rican sour cream. It was watered down and thin, almost to be compared with light sour cream, but way more light and rotten-smelling.
Crashing a party: One night we thought we'd venture out on our own and do some bar-hopping. Good plan, and when Samantha saw a club with a line out the door, we thought we'd found the perfect spot to begin our night. When we got in the door, they asked if our name was on the list. Of course it wasn't, so we payed the $10 the door guy asked us for and got our cup (it was open bar, so we thought we had it made). Upon entering the dance-floor area, we see a little girl with a tiara, aunt with a camera, mom with a box of cake, and hundreds of overdressed Puerto Rican tweens. We figured out we had crashed a sweet sixteen party when everyone started staring and whispering at us. We chugged about 4 drinks and made our way to the 80s hair band bar (read on).
Playlist at the clubs: About 3 years behind. Examples: Sexy Back, Break it Off (Rihanna and Sean Paul), old Akon (even like pre-Young Jeezy), Buttons, Shakira
Luis Figueroa: This is an example of something that's awesome and lame at the same time. Luis Figueroa originally greeted me at O'Hare while waiting for my flight. He told me he was returning to his home in Puerto Rico after injuring himself playing baseball. He proceeded to outline his baseball career for me (which consisted of him coming up from the minors for about 8 games, hurting his wrist, being traded, getting sent back down to the minors, etc...this cycle repeated itself for about 7 seasons and I finally thought "wow, this guy is old, why is he talking to me?? Creepy...") Overall, he was nice. He offered to show us around, take us shopping, etc, but he eventually turned a little sketch when he kept calling multiple times/day. I quit answering and that was the end of that.
Knock-off surprise: This one is just awesome. Ever since I went to Rome in 8th grade, I have been obsessed with fake designer purses. I know this is very, very tacky, but I don't care. When I see knock-offs on the side of the road, I get a twinkle in my eye and butterflies in my stomach. I mastered the art of finding the perfect purse during multiple trips to New York to see my brother. There's something about the smell of Chinatown combined with all the bright colors and patterns on the purses that makes me feel like I've died and gone to Heaven. Purse Heaven. Anyway, traveling to Puerto Rico, I was not expecting to see any shady little men with garbage bags on the side of the road selling knock-offs. However, while walking through Old San Juan I spotted them. It was great, and made me feel comfortable and warm inside; a definite turning point of my vaca.
Fried balls of potato with meat in the center: I don't know the real name for these, but they were so yummmm. Ground beef surrounded with mashed potato then deep fried in crispy batter hit the spot one day. This type of food is sold in sketchy-looking open hut areas along the side of the road. Same place where Samantha got the octopus salad.
Free-roaming iguanas: You will be walking along a path, minding your own business, when a huge, pet-sized iguana will scurry across, or maybe even stop and look at you and think about attacking you. Seeing 4-foot-long iguanas leap out in front of me was a huge surprise the first time it happened, but then I got used to it. Instead of dead squirrels and deer on the side of the road, Puerto Ricans have dead lizards and iguanas.
El Morro: One of the largest forts built by the Spanish settlers in the Caribbean. It dates back to the 1500s, is really big, looks really old, and has an elaborate cemetery at its base. When you look at it, it makes you think about conquistadors and fighting and war and death. The moment when John Smith calls Pocahontas' people "savages" in the Disney movie popped into my mind. Different time, different place, but same vibe. Anyway, maybe not "awesome," but very powerful.
Hair band bar: There is a bar in Old San Juan called NoNo's that features a huge flat screen TV above the bar that plays nothing but 80s hair band music videos. We're talking Van Halen, Lita Ford, Ozzy Osbourne, Winger-Winger, Warrant, White Snake, Def Leppard, Poison, etc. One of the locals told me there's a "hair band scene" in Puerto Rico. Who would have thought? Definitely hilarious and much better than Raggaeton, in my opinion.
Miguel the drug dealer: Miguel the drug dealer was awesome because he reminded me of your typical pothead boy from the States. He was about 5' 2" and very emaciated, had long hair tied back in some sort of bun, spoke very slowly, had squinty eyes, and laughed at everything. What seemed to be a friendly conversation at a bar turned into Miguel telling me about how he goes down to La Perle (which is like the ghetto of San Juan, just down the hill from the city along the coast...kind of the like the East St. Louis of Puerto Rico) and sells his drugs. He told me about how he thinks bums are good people, how his friend just made some Web site on conspiracy theories, and how Led Zeppelin is his favorite band. After he told me that 9/11 was "an inside joke," I became very irritated and offended by Miguel. I told him that I did not think 9/11 was a conspiracy and he went ape shit, shouting at me, huffing and puffing, eventually marching off. He returned later, acting like everything was fine, to ask if I wanted to smoke some of his Caribe, which he described as "the best weed evverrrr, maaannn." Overall, Miguel had a good heart and was quite endearing.
Resort club: Our resort, El Conquistador, was the epitome of a resort. This means there were 20+ restaurants, 34 pools, a casino, a club, shops, a Starbucks, and anything else you could imagine that the typical American honeymooning couple would need to make their time in a foreign place seem like they were right at home in the States. One day we figured we might as well check out the resort amenities and not pay 80 more dollars for another night of the rental car. I won 63 cents at the casino and then we made our way to the "dance club." We opened the doors and saw 2 wasted couples performing on the dance floor. A very red, obese man did air guitar and fist pumps to countless ACDC songs while the wives and skinny husband served as his back up dancers. At one point, he fell off the stage flat on his face, but that did not stop him. The vibe changed when the tape player (yes, there was no DJ) played Madonna's "Holiday." More couples got up to dance, and they all started doing that thing people do at wedding receptions where two lines are formed and then guests take turns dancing down the middle. It was very awesome, but could also maybe fit in the "lame" category.