Home of the Piña Colada: Puerto Rico has beautiful views, but hospitality was lacking, says Teens & Twenties writer

Lenzie Purcell, a Teens & Twenties writer and UNC-Chapel Hill senior, is shown surfing in Puerto Rico during a recent trip there. / Photo submitted

Commentary by Lenzie Purcell
Times-News correspondent

   I’m spoiled. After working and saving for years, I’ve been able to travel around the world (twice) and have been extraordinarily lucky in having enjoyable and easygoing trips. I’ve been able to overlook malaria-induced hallucinations in Egypt, no access to clean water in Cambodia and jellyfish attacks in Australia because I was so completely in love with not only the land of these foreign countries, but the people, too.
I was able to come home from these trips and ramble for hours about the kindness of locals while overlooking any trials or tribulations because they were overshadowed by the smiles of friendly faces that still linger in my mind.
But upon sitting down to write about mine and my roommates’ 10-day road trip around Puerto Rico, the only thing that came to my fingertips was this: Mama always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
I tried writing about the unequivocally clear waters of the Caribbean, the unmatched perfect weather that graced us during our trip, the perfect waves that rolled through Rincon, ideal for all surfing levels. I thought about writing an entire column on the wild horses that frolicked in the water on a beach we stumbled upon while on Isla de Vieques — a beach we had all to ourselves. I considered describing the whales that breached again and again, right before our eyes, as we relaxed under a blue sky on white sand. I could have written about our Camuy Caves experience during which we spent eight hours crawling, rapelling, rafting and meditating hundreds of feet underground surrounded only by darkness and bats. I even contemplated writing all about the sweet frozen goodness that is a Piña Colada — the official beverage of Puerto Rico.
But with all the beauty that is Puerto Rico, difficulties accompany in tenfold. Difficulties that should be expected while traveling to a new place: odd (and dangerous) driving practices, language barriers, differences in ways of doing things. I’ve experienced these problems before but usually restaurant staff I meet on my travels are willing to prepare food without meat (as I’m allergic to pork, beef and lamb) without telling me that I can just “pick out the allergens.”
Often, hotel staff will get off the phone with their boyfriend to check me in and answer pertinent questions regarding the hotel. Sometimes, when I have an emergency with a car I’ve just spent hundreds of dollars to rent, rental company associates will offer advice or at least attempt to help me.
Maybe I would have been able to appreciate the weather and waves of the west coast if our reservations for our hotel and dive trip would have been accepted, but according to the receptionist, our reservations (which I had made weeks in advance) “just weren’t on the books.”
Perhaps the whales and horses would have eclipsed all else on our trip had it not taken us half a day to find both beaches due to lack of addresses on the Island and the refusal to help “foreigners” — a name we were called repeatedly in not-so-becoming tones.
Piña Coladas should have wiped my oh-so-first world-problems away, but almost every time I ordered one of the frozen drinks, a bartender would be waiting, quick to point out that they are full of fat and may not comply with my “belly and its size” as one man put it.
Was it just me? In regards to Puerto Rican appreciation, was the feeling of one-step forward, two-steps back, unique to my personal experience?
“How did you like Puerto Rico?” our bartender asked as he poured my final drink from behind the bar of San Juan’s airport Margaritaville.
“Beautiful, we went on a road-trip, saw a lot,” I answered. I had practiced this response.
“Yeah, yeah, but the people eh? The people aren’t so good. Beautiful? Maybe. Nice? No way. Did you see that on your trip?” he asked.

 Lenzie Purcell is a senior at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and
a Teens & Twenties writer.


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