“When you look at a city,
it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations
and pride of everyone who built it.”
– Hugh Newell Jacobsen
Ah, to be in a city!
Nothing against the small Michigan towns or even Grand Rapids I had been in for the last year, but in a real, legitimate city, it had been far too long.
After spending some time looking over a map of the island with Robert, the staff member I checked in with, I was feeling a little restless. So I headed out on a blind walk into the night.
Some people may like their relaxing hikes along a mountain trail, along a river, or through the woods. To me, there is nothing so intriguing as wandering the random streets of a brand new city. The people that you pass by, the places that you might never expect to be there, and all those beautiful little curiosities you come across in between.
The feeling reminded me of my first night in Athens, over 6 years ago, in which I ended up wandering the city to the point where it was the middle of the night and I honestly had no idea where I was until I came across a subway station and used that to get back to my hostel. This time, I had my iPhone GPS, so it proved a little easier to find some familiar references.
As soon as I got to the first major road in the area, there were a couple sights that I didn’t quite expect: a Denny’s and a Uno Chicago’s Pizza. Even the McDonald’s in Syntagma Square of Athens hadn’t surprised me, but these just did not seem like they would be there.
Across the street, the noise of live music drew me into the remnants of a disbanding festival outside of a concert hall. Food carts and craft stands were bartering with their last customers as they attempted to close down and go home for the evening. Two or three dancers still stood onstage as the band played their last couple songs. It was a shame I hadn’t come to this earlier, I would have loved to see it in full swing.
After leaving the festival, I headed west down that main street, Ponce de Leon, in search of some sort of still active nightlife and/or food. I continued for a couple kilometers past closed signs and cerrado signs, thinking nothing here stayed open past 23:00.
Finally I came upon a corner where there seemed to be some people. I followed the small crowd into what seemed to be a small, trendy bar. There was a light, low-tempo electronica playing inside. On the left wall, there was a 2m X 2m VIP room raised off the floor by a couple steps and separated only by a beaded curtain. The crowd was gathered around the bar though, making about 5 minutes of trying to get a drink a waste of time.
I left there and went to the restaurant/bar next door, where I finally got a chance to test whatever remaining Spanish skills I might have. Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed already, so I just got a Medalla, essentially the Puerto Rican equivalent of Miller Lite. Still, this place closed within a half hour of me being there, so I started looping back around to the hostel through some more side streets.
I came upon a lively intersection amidst a shadier-looking residential neighborhood and the oddly English-sounding Andy’s Pub, which advertises billiards, dominoes, and videos.
After a couple attempts to get the buzzer door open at Andy’s, I gave up and just went to the open-air bar across the street, El Corozal. There, I found cheap beer ($1.20 per can) and got to think of Spanish on the spot to converse with the bartender. One curious aspect of it was that the shelves behind the bartop didn’t contain a variety of liquors but were more akin to a convenience store. This El Corozal quickly became my go-to bar while I was staying in the area.
After a couple cans, I returned to the hostel to a comfortable bed with open-air windows to fall asleep to the sounds of my first night in a tropical city.