Last June, I packed two suitcases, put my truck on a boat, and got on a plane to Puerto Rico to start a new job. I landed in San Juan knowing four people. Since then, I have been working to make this place my home, to jump at any opportunity of meeting people, exploring, or being outside. I think that some of the best moments happen when things don’t exactly follow the plan. With that in mind, here is a very, incomplete list of things that have happened to me in the past seven months.
I stepped on a sea urchin as I went to paddle out at Dorado in October. I pulled my foot out of the water, saw blood, shrugged, and went surfing anyway. Two and a half hours later I changed, in my truck, in an abandoned auto parts store and went to church. I was thirty minutes late and winced when I stood up to take communion. It took a full week to get all of the spines out.
On three separate occasions, I have swerved to avoid hitting an iguana sunbathing in the road. On one occasion I have not missed the iguana.
The entire island lost power for roughly 48 hours in September. I sat in a beach chair on my front patio reading until it got too dark. I saw all the stars that night. I slept in a puddle of my own sweat and told myself it was OK to start drinking. After the power came back on, I hid a bottle of rum under my sink in case of future emergencies.
I sliced my hand while trying to climb on a boulder by the beach. I was six feet off the ground when my foothold blew (I was wearing Vans) and I caught all my weight on my left hand. When I climbed a little higher there was a very upset iguana sitting on top of the boulder. It ran directly at me.
I took a group of high schoolers hiking in the rainforest. We listened to the Jurassic Park soundtrack as we drove into the park. At the top, the wind was strong enough to push us off. We saw the coast on two sides of the island.
My friend Robby showed me his favorite places on the southwest side of the island. He led me down a rickety cement stairwell to a beach that was covered with hundreds of hermit crabs.
I rock hopped up a river, jumped a barbed wire fence and climbed past an abandoned dam to go caving. Inside, it was big enough to drive a school bus and covered floor to ceiling in tiny crystals. One of the men with us almost got swept down the river on our hike out. I had to swear not to tell people where the cave was, still, I saved the location in my phone.
It took me two separate attempts to find a swimming hole in the rainforest. The first time I got lost with a friend and bushwacked up a river for two hours. At one point I was knee deep in mud. The second time a local showed me that there was a well established and maintained trail that led straight to the spot.
I got invited to go rock climbing in Juana Diaz. I climbed all day and hiked out at sunset. A quarter mile from the trailhead was a little local bar. I drank dollar beers and watched cockfights with the locals. The winning chicken was brought into the bar and paraded around on the pool table. I drove back country roads home late that night, I hit a pothole the size of my car and possibly another iguana.
I don’t know if there is a right way or a wrong way to make a place feel like home, but this is a catalog of me trying.