Circumnavigating Puerto Rico By Car
San Juan, Puerto Rico USA
Thinking fruit and vegetable stand here. Or grocery store. Nary a one in sight. Haven’t seen a single grocery store and I’ve been over 70% of the roads on this weird Island. Where the hell do people get their food? What the hell do they eat here? Oh, for just one Safeway deli. Where’s the food? The Chinese take out. There’s only these strange ramshackle roadside stands. They are built of an assortment of odd boards and sheets of tin. Not unlike a kid’s first tree house. A typical stand is hollowed out of the right-of-way brambles. Looks like a green cave. Trash is festooned in the bushes all around. Plastic bags and fast food wrappers waft languidly with each passing car. The wares are only an odd assortment of plastic milk jugs partially filled with colored fluids. What is this stuff? It exudes bacterial contamination. Who buys this stuff? What are ya going to pay for a glass of this mystery fluid? Twenty bucks for an obvious tourist maybe? Twenty five cents to a local, I suspect. I’m not thirsty. The proprietors leer at us as we pass. Need something to grind in our teeth.
Check out these indie travel tips for San Juan.
Another stand goes by, lathered in snagged plastic bags. Plastic bags are all over the beaches and floating in the water as dead jelly fish mimics. The bags hung like fruit on every highway bush, drifted into aero-terrestrial mounds on the edges of all parking lots, flapping in the breeze in trees. This is the true Puerto Rican flag.
I’m looking for the goddamned fruit trees. Everything is jungle and stagnate saturated heat. Every kind of Gooba wabba plant all around, big leaves, verdant greens. I see no avocado trees. No orange trees. No tangerine, grapefruit, papaya. Disheveled banana plantations pass by the highway, but there are no bananas in the trees. Where’s the Harry Belafonta song about “picka de beanna … daaaay oh”? All I got ringing in my head is “yes .. we haves no bananas”. What refugee from 4th grade English coined that?
With much inspection, by slowing my car and rubbernecking out the window to a serenade of swerving, honking Puerto Ricians, I do notice that there are mango trees. There is a rotting mango mush under each of these trees. The fruit is too high up to reach or too far gone on the ground. Never really cared for that slimy stuff any way. Sort of a cantaloupe with a glandular problem. A melon with the day care flu. The rind is attached like a carp skin. By the time you get it off, you have a mucus mud slide mess in your lap with an alarming sticky quality. So, screw that crap. At long last, I spy a citrus tree of some sort. I am nearing a mountain pass on the windiest narrow road since Hannibal went over the Alps. Parking at what I perceive to be the edge of the road, I triple lock the car and scurry back down to the tree. Pick ups and sedans tear past at 60, about 40 miles per hour past safe driving speed. At the next blind corner in 200 feet, their tires shriek as they swerve wildly into the oncoming lane. I stand on a mashed over road barrier and pull a branch down. Small green oranges? Un ripe tangerines? Green lemons? I slice one open. Yes, clear juice, tang in the air, citrus for sure. Hmmm green interior. A bite. Limes. A tree of sourpuss limes. Not bad though, in spite of the lack of Tequila, a refreshing tart taste. I load a half dozen into my shirt. This will balance my McDonald’s scurvy compatible diet.
A massive horn honking is coming down the hill. The berserker is flat leaning on the horn. BBLAAAAAAAAAAAA. BLAAAAAAAAAAA! A restless deluge of sound. Accompanying this orchestra is the squealing of tires and minor horns bleating against the din. I cannot see ahead through the curves and trees what the approaching monster is. An elephant stampede through an office hallway seems safer. Finally I see it. A fuel truck that is twice the length of any curve radius. The wild eyed driver looks less than 16, baseball cap on backwards. He is careening the truck around the corners with one very busy arm, the other working the horn like a ping pong paddle at the Japanese Open. I see that my fragile rental car is parked right on the curve, and that this impending doom uses both lanes and an ample percentage of the shoulder. My god, no time to move the car. Should I get in and be slapped off the edge by the Shell brand crocodile tail? Sure death, that plan. I run to a short straight stretch and cling to a barren banana tree.
My attention is riveted to the mechanical tsunami’s approach. Right at the curve, the driver realizes there is a car parked in his sonic shock wave. He dynamites the breaks with a rendering shriek and small calumnious cloud. Then off the brakes and back on the horn. Still traveling at 50 into the 20 miles-per-hour curve. Skillfully he spins the steering wheel, careening the truck across the entire road and diving into the curve. The paint on the rental is scratched from the air pressure of the near miss, the sides miraculously not crumpling like a bad memo. Then he is past. Stress factor 9 is gone. His massive horn recedes down into the valley below, doing the Einstein relative sound shift thing. I sneak my pitiful limes into the rental and speed the hell out of there, at 60, but with the windows down to hear the next truck.
All the crazies are on my ass like a fat woman on a bicycle seat. No matter what speed I drive, some son-of-a-bitch zooms up behind me and sticks on me like a thigh pimple. In the rear view mirror is the pop-eyed intense freako of who I can only see hood, windshield and eye whites. Can’t even see the bashed in car grill. Bastard can’t be more than 7 inches off my license plate.
I swerve halfway onto the median and the maniac punches it, flying past at 70. No thought to oncoming traffic. That’s some other fools problem. The oncoming swerve wildly to the road edge as the auto rocket roars up the center line. What the fuck’s the prick’s hurry? There is no business to attend to. There are no appointments. There is only beer. Get to the beer. This is what is important. This is the mission.
Cars streaming by are a parade from a stock car race. They are all smashed up. Some are “T-boned” in the side doors, but most are diagonally mashed. Fine one eyed crunchings that appear to be 15 to 25 mile per hour impacts. The entire headlight or rear taillight systems are missing, crumpled into a used baked potato wrapper. There is no repair. The car still works just fine, 20 to 60 in 4 seconds. These scraggly tetanus traps have killed and will kill again. Bold alley cats have their ears in ribbons because they won’t back down from a snarling swing fight. Timid felines have abscesses on their rump from running in terror. The cars to stay out of the way of are smashed in front, the Loco Gatos.
Intersections are anarchist cowboys dream come true. There are no signals, signs, or markings. There are no rules. The boldest, horn-honking, accelerating reckless maniac rules. Courtesy is for wimps. Wimps are pushed sniveling to the side.
Getting the local flavor of Puerto Rican traffic rules, I find my self sheepishly attempting a left intersection turn. To cross a 4 lane intersection the procedure is to charge out there in the fastest most aggressive manner possible, breaking only at the last possible second before collisions. Luckily, there is a more brazen maniac operator in front of me that hooks his vehicle into the oncoming traffic lane at a rakish diagonal and slowly squeezes the pre-smashed nose of his car into the traffic. This causes the incoming to swerve frantically in to the jammed lane to their right, which is speeding by at bumper to bumper 60. His mechanical foreplay is accompanied by commodious honking and fist waving. Full moons of bulging eye whites in the oncoming traffic blend with their locked tire smoke. Their hesitation horror creates a split second hole in the sea of iron. I burst ahead, careening the car into the gap, plowing chicken into the impeding collision. By some temporal miracle of chaos theory, another hole appears to shoot through. I hook the sidewalk for a little more maneuvering room, scattering pedestrians, bolting for their lives. Through the mousetrap, I blast down the side street to the thumping noises of impacting metal and blaring horns behind me. I’m feeling very Puerto Rican.