Turning 29 in Puerto Rico, La Isla del Encanto

Once I heard that the the third annual Su-Style Expo, the premier plus size event for Latinas, would be happening on May 4th, literally the day after my birthday, I took this to be a sign that it was finally time for me to go to Puerto Rico. My mother spent over 4 years there working on her BS in Biology before immigrating to the US and so I grew up listening to my mother call Puerto Rico as her “Segunda Patria” (Translation: Second homeland). Having heard her stories and seen pictures of her adventures there, I dreamed about the day that I would be able to travel to “La Isla del Encanto” myself.

My mother’s birthday is a week before mine and she hasn’t been back since she left in 1987 so I figured that  a mother-daughter trip would also be a great birthday present for her. (And by extension, Mother’s Day present too because that was a week after our trip and I was pretty broke after this, hahaha!) So I bought our tickets, booked the hotel and told her to pack her bags. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so excited.

I had originally planned to do a full-fledged travel vlog complete with a pina colada counter (because there were many, I mean it is Puerto Rico after all), but alas I was having a bit too much fun to take video too seriously. However I still wanted to share a bit about our trip so check it out below!

Day 1 – Travel Day

My mother and I haven’t been on a plane together since 2007 when we flew down to Panama as a family for my great-grandmother’s funeral so it was a nice change of pace to be traveling someplace for fun rather than obligation. The entire time in the airport I caught my mother looking around the airport muttering, “No puedo creer que vamos a Puerto Rico!” (Translation: I can’t believe we’re going to Puerto Rico!)

The face of complete joy at being back.

Even with all the excitement, our first day on the island just consisted of picking up our rental car and settling into our hotel. My mother had to cram three days of work into two in order to get the rest of the week off so she was pretty beat by the time we got to the airport and I had actually stayed up the night before repacking my suitcase for the fourth time so we were pretty tired to do any of the things that I had on the agenda for the day besides getting something to eat.

Our first meal was at La Cabana Bar & Grill which was a few minutes away from the hotel. It was packed with locals so it was clear that this was going to be good. We both ordered the same thing – a plate of sorullos as an appetizer, mofongo relleno de pollo, a pina colada and rice with beans. Absolutely delicious and a great introduction to the amazing culinary fare to come.

Mofongo relleno de pollo

Day 2 – Happy Birthday to me!

We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Viejo San Juan. My favorite thing to do when I travel is to go visit historical sites so of course I had a museum visit on the top of my long list of things to do on my birthday. For our first stop I chose the Museo Casa Blanca, a house built in 1521 that was meant to be a residence for Juan Ponce de Leon. He unfortunately died while on his expedition in Florida ( you know, the one for the Fountain of Youth) so he never got a chance to actually live in the house but his family and descendants did until the mid-18th century.  The museum houses furniture and other cultural items belonging to the Ponce family from the 16th-18th centuries and has a breathtaking view of the  La Fortaleza, the current official residence of the governor.

Cold Shoulder Embroidered Tunic in Sun bleach yellow (Size 16W) – Full Beauty | Sneakers – Avenue

Funny enough, I had planned our visit to the forts for the last day of the trip but seeing how we literally were like 2 blocks away from Castillo San Felipe del Morro, we decided to just head on over. I’m so glad that I decided to wear my new Cloudwalker slip on sneakers as a visit to “El Morro” consists of a lot of hiking up ramps and stairs. 

My mother (27 years old), 1987 | Me (29 years old), 2019

We spent the better part our time looking for the cannons and the cannon balls that my mother got to see and photograph the last time she was there, but couldn’t find them anywhere. Turns out we were at the wrong fort (her pictures are from Castillo de San Cristobal). The $7 admission fee does allow for entrance to both forts  and we could have easily walked over but we had a schedule to keep. If anything, missing out on Castillo de San Cristobal during this trip at least gives us something to do on our next visit.

By the afternoon it was time for a quick trip to the store for some snacks before heading off to Escambron Beach for lunch.  This beach is literally within walking  distance of Viejo  San Juan so  the ride over from El Morro was pretty short.  Parking was only $5 and even with its close proximity to the major metropolitan area, wasn’t too crowded which I greatly appreciated. The crystal clear and calm water combined with relaxing atmosphere was simply the best place to relax after a long morning of sightseeing. 

View of Castillo de San Cristobal from the rocks at Escambron beach.

After a few hours on the beach we drove back to our hotel to shower and change into our final outfits for the day. Part of my trip planning included scheduling a special birthday dinner and no trip to Puerto Rico would be complete without a trip to the restaurant where the Pina Colada is said to have been created – Barrachina.

Fresh red snapper, rice and tostones.

Mini Tea Dress with Lace Inserts and Button Front Detail (Size 18)- Asos Curve

After dinner we took a walk down Calle Fortaleza to check out the famous umbrella art installation that hangs in front of the governor’s mansion. It was just as beautiful at night as it was in the day.

Day 3 – Su-Style Expo & Plaza Las Americas

My mother challenged me to not pack anything black since we were heading to the Caribbean and I did my best to stick to that. In fact some of the first things I purchased specifically for this trip were in colors that I tend to stay away from, being yellow, white and red. Sure, I broke the whole “no-black clothing” deal for the Su-Style Expo, though I don’t think it should count because I was in full blogger-mode and black is just a part of my personal style/brand, haha. While I will be recapping the event in next week’s blog post, I must say that it was amazing and I’m beyond happy that I made the effort to finally be able to attend.

My mother was curious to see what a plus size fashion event entailed so she got dressed to accompany me, but got bored pretty quickly so we ended up leaving earlier than planned. We headed over to the Plaza Las Americas mall to grab some food and check out the shopping. This is the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean with 300 stores, restaurants, a food court, and  an in-house cinema showing films in English and Spanish.  It also has a very American-feel to it  which  I think has to do with the recognizable stores like Torrid, and Macy’s interspersed between locally owned boutiques and shops. We only did a bit of window shopping in an effort to avoid any temptation, it didn’t really help though since I still bought some stuff though in my defense they were souvenirs for people back home.

Day 4 – Beach Day

Before we even got on our flight at JFK airport in NYC,  I told my mother that I fully expected to go to the beach at least twice during this trip. I did a bunch of research before this trip and I had my heart set on going to Culebra to check out Flamenco Beach which is considered to be the most beautiful beach in the world. However, my mother surprised me by driving us to the one that she used to go with her college classmates – Luquillo beach.

Also known as Balneario Monserrate, this beach has food kiosks, and souvenir shops  available a short walk away from the sand. We did have to pay a dollar for access to the restrooms, changing rooms, and showers, which wasn’t too bad considering the fact that we also got  wristbands so we could access the facilities as  as much as we wanted during our time at the beach.

I’m  workaholic and as you can expect, its not that easy for me to just take time off to relax and do absolutely nothing. Even when I’m off from work I’m still plotting out new projects and such. Yet I found a deep sense of calm while in the water. Unlike many of the beaches in NYC, there were no waves to speak of, which is great for  people like me who don’t know how to swim as you can just float with ease. Honestly I think my mother has ruined all beaches for me now because I will forever compare all others to this one due to its white sand, and crystal clear water.

Day 5 – Road trip to Mayaguez

This is a two way street and its horrifyingly narrow.

I promised myself that if I were to ever have the chance to visit Puerto Rico I had to go see my mother’s college campus. After hearing so many stories about her time there I was curious to see where it was that she had some of the best times of her life.  This road trip is the reason why I even rented a car to begin with since Mayaguez is approximately a two hour drive away from San Juan being that it is on the west coast of the island. My mother is the best driver  I know so I knew she would’t bat an eye on the challenge  but I think we may have underestimated how tricky the trip would end up being because the GPS ended up sending us on some very narrow and steep roads most of which were unrecognizable to my mother given the number of years that have passed since she last drove in Puerto Rico. Of course it was worth it in the end since I got to tour the campus and even see the outside of the house she rented with her friends while she studied there.

In front of the college library.

One amazing surprise that I hadn’t even considered possible was getting the chance to meet some of her college friends who actually still work on campus as professors and administrators. The reunions were brief but tears were still shed as they embraced after so many years apart. 32 years to be exact. They carried on as if their time apart was only weeks instead of years and as they caught up with each other I finally got a peek of who my mother was in her twenties. It was beyond fascinating and a little bit comforting. It was tangible proof that even with great distances and the passage of time, there are friendships that can last even if you are no longer the person you once were.

I had a wonderful time on this trip to Puerto Rico and I am already making plans to go back.  I also loved having this chance to reconnect with my mother and I can see us making mother-daughter travel a new tradition, even if its just a road trip upstate, it will be time well spent.

Next year I turn 30 and I would be lying if I said that reaching this age isn’t at all frightening to me, yet I’m looking forward to the adventures I have as I get there as well as the ones that come after. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that more travel is involved.

Have you ever gone away for your birthday? Would you ever make travel part of your birthday celebration plans?

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