It’s been five years since we started doing this thing, and somehow, we made it this far. I know our first meeting wasn’t great. You were steaming hot, while I was trying to keep it cool. You lit up with sunshine for those first few weeks, but all I saw was the garbage on the street and rundown buildings, refusing to admit that the sun felt so good on my skin, trying to deny the intoxicating scent of your salt water. So you switched tactics, raining down hard, showing me the cycles by which you grow and die and grow again, but all I could see was insufficient drainage and to be fair, you really overdid it with the rain and rain and rain for almost three weeks straight.
But it wasn’t your fault. I know now you were just doing what you do. But you and I both know I wasn’t having it. When we got here, it was hard to find a place to land. We saw house after house, but couldn’t find a home. I was picky, and you weren’t giving me a lot of options. It was all narrow spiral stairs, low second-floor windows with no screens, homes built on swamps that would flood with a day’s worth of rain. I wanted a place that was comfortable and clean and above all else, safe. Because all I could see lurking around each corner and in every crevice was danger: Strangers and thieves and snakes and lizards and a million other things that could hurt my little girl. I needed a place where she would be protected.
People wonder why I would bring my most precious thing to your jungle if her safety was my main concern. Even today, five years later, I struggle with the answer. It’s not straightforward. There are trade-offs. Playgrounds vs. beach. Cars vs. bike. Indoor swimming pools vs. the ocean. Stability vs. adventure. There aren’t right answers. I’m still doing the best I can.
Those first few months, I felt so alone. I missed my people. My parents and friends and especially my cousins. Do you know about cousins, Puerto? I love my cousins, and I had them all around me back there. I came here and I felt like they were gone. FaceTime chats are a poor substitution for sitting around the living room with chai after dinner. FaceTime is not face to face, and I missed my face to face so much.
Honestly Puerto, I just wasn’t that into you. You knew it. Everyone did. I wasn’t trying to hide it. I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat for weeks after we moved, with the same question running through my mind over and over, “What have we done??”
But you didn’t stop trying, Puerto. Just when I was ready to pack it in those first few days, you landed us in a place I could live in with my girl. It was safe, in town, and this little place got infinitely better when I switched from that awkward pasty dishwashing soap in a tub to normal liquid dishwashing soap in a bottle, and got some lamps with 100w lightbulbs.
I was ready to pack it in a few weeks later with all that rain, but you brought the sunshine back, and those calm ocean waters in September and October. You gave us a school where we could send our little one for a few hours a day so she and I could find some peace from each other.
And as time does, it has continued to move on. One week became six months became one year, then two…and now here we are, five years later. No one thought we’d last thIs long, especially me. But you and me – we continue to flirt. I’m not ready to put it on paper and make it official, but I’m happy to float in and out as long as immigration keeps giving us those coveted 90 day stamps.
But I worry, Puerto. People get mugged and Stu won’t let me get a gun. Some drivers around here treat Route 32 like it’s the Autobahn. I worry about being far from my family if they need me in an emergency. Every time the earth tremors a little bit I’m the one on Facebook, screaming into the interwebs, “WILL THERE BE A TSUNAMI?!”
But these days, I feel more than general worry and anxiety – I feel grateful. To you, you tiny, dusty, rainy town. Because in being so little, you’ve given me so much.
Thank you for slowing me down, Puerto. It’s a feat others have tried and failed, but you were relentless in pulling me into your pura vida, and you wouldn’t let me go. Remember when we first moved here and I was two weeks late paying the rent that first month? I was so scared and embarrassed to admit to our property manager about the mix-up, but she just laughed in my face and said, “Jeez, Zoee, relax. This is Caribbean. Slow motion.” I haven’t been late with my rent again, but slow motion has stayed with me. It’s a process, but you are ever-patient with your reminders.
I will be forever grateful to you for getting me out of my car and back on my bike. The childlike freedom I feel riding on two wheels isn’t one I take for granted, and Amira now accepts bicycles as a viable and normal mode of transportation. She doesn’t even know what she has yet, but she will one day.
And because of you, Puerto, Amira speaks Spanish. You’ve tried to teach me too, with so many patient Ticos (and a few impatient ones) slowly but surely walking me through medication instructions and restaurant menus with hand gestures and vocal intonations that eventually get the point across, but I’ve been a piss-poor student. I still live in an English-speaking bubble made of steel. But Amira came to you young and malleable, and all it took was a few months in a Spanish school with Spanish-speaking kids when I heard her yell in her new native tongue, “No, es mio!!” Fluency in a second language is a privilege I was desperate for her to have but couldn’t give her myself, and I’m grateful that you did.
I’m grateful every day when I see the ocean down the road from outside our front gates. One of my favourite things to do is to catch the diamonds glinting on her waters through the jungle trees and vines when I’m riding down the road. The vibrant emerald and sparkling sapphire is a feast for my eyes every day.
These days, I don’t notice so much the garbage on the road (except for that corner at Calle Principal and Marguerita Rd – can you just get that corner sorted, already?) and I’m not as bothered by the ants and lizards as I used to be, though I could really do without the cockroaches. I mean, really. Do they have to fly??
Now I see the myriad colours of hibiscus flowers that grow in our garden. I’m enchanted by the canopy of fuchsia bougainvillea over our walkway, and the hummingbirds that feed each day on the nectar of the small red flowers in the overgrown bush by our front porch. The sounds of the kids practicing their drums every parade season, and the clear nights when the sky is full of diamonds. Listening to the waves crashing late at night from our bedroom window is better than any Brookstone sound machine – even though for the first two years here, I didn’t know what that sound was. Not till I mentioned it to Stu and he replied, completely perplexed, “What did you think it was? Traffic??”
Your people have become our people. The people who were born of this place, and the ones who came here and found their home. They’ve become our friends and bandmates, emergency calls and mid-afternoon coffee dates. Their generosity is sometimes astounding. They make me feel like we have a place here, and that no matter how long we leave for, we can always come back.
I appreciate the simplicity of you, Puerto. Your vibe aligns so much with the ease and contentment I crave, even if the reasons I have a hard time nailing it down it are in my own head. But your reminders are gentle and ever-present, and I try to listen.
But having said all that, P, we know this won’t last forever. You’ve got what I need now, but this isn’t a life-long commitment. I won’t be here in ten years, probably not more than five, if that. And it will break my heart when we’re gone. But for now we’re still here. Let’s just love on each other as long we can.