“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”
-- Henry David Thoreau from Walden

The hours before my return flight to Ohio were winding down & I had an overwhelming feeling of contentment.  True, there were many regions of Puerto Rico I did not explore, but – in my opinion – I could sum up the trip in one word: owned.  It was a blistering day, I was full of platanos amarillos a.k.a. yellow/ripe plantains, and had nothing left to conquer. I simply wanted to relax by the ocean.

I remembered my previous vacation to Puerto Rico (which doubled as my first time to the country).  My ex-boyfriend and a group of his friends were already headed there for the long, Memorial Day weekend.  At 9:00 he invited me along; at 12:30 I bought my ticket; at 16:00 my mum drove me to the airport.  We partied at La Placita (a San Juan hot-spot), toured the Bacardi Factory and milled around the region.
I had an absolutely wonderful time playing jet-setter that holiday weekend & a few neighborhoods’ names stuck out in my mind.  Trying desperately to remember my past, I took the slower, less direct route toward Playa Piñones a.k.a. Pines Beach.  Through Isla Verde (where I slept last night) nothing looked familiar in the daylight. Condado was equally unfamiliar & I was beginning to lose confidence that I'd ever find these unidentifiable places.  On Condado's calle Ashford, a wide-open cement patio sorely stuck out as it was the only gap between the high-rises. Like déjà vu or having a recurring dream, the streets & background were fuzzy but not that specific spot.  I could not have drawn it beforehand, but when I saw the beachside tables I knew this was where my ex & I sipped on expensive Sangria with the rest of the group.
I did not park the car nor cast a second glance. One look was enough. The hard, gray patio juxtaposed againt the soft sand & blue sea affirmed that – in a former life – the younger, carefree me had left her mark here.  Further east of Isla Verde, Santurce & Condado, the condominiums and slums faded and were replaced with infinite ocean vistas a.k.a. views.  There were myriad of sand lots to pull into and eventually I inferred I was on the outskirts of San Juan.  As usual, three older, leather-skinned Puertoriqueños charged me $3 for parking.
In my travels around the country, Piñones was the most deserted playa.  I shared the crispy, beat up strip of sand with a fisherman – who soon left – and the surfers who floated more than they actually caught waves.  Later, a group of three boogie boarders meandered down the stretch of beach where I lounged & we struck up a conversation.  He too was a type one diabetic.  We discussed various topics and Erick gave me his number to meet for dinner, but – as I recorded in my journal – “I’ve been on my own for awhile now.” Basically, I did not even entertain the notion of celebrating my last night nor the company of someone else.

As the sunlight dwindled, the no-see-ums struck with a vengeance & I packed up the car one last time.  The same men minding el estacionamiento were still rocking in their chairs.  In Spanish, we briefly conversed about why I was leaving & when I would return. My responses were automatic, fluent and grammatically correct.  This week immersed in Latin American culture had immensely improved my language skills.

En route to the airport, I experienced another fuzzy recollection as friquitines a.k.a. streetside food vendors flew by the car window in a blur.  I smelled the grilling meat, I heard the jovial mariachi music, I saw the kiosks lining the beach & recalled the feeling of strolling Piñones with the Memorial Day group – drinks in hand & munching on cheap, pork kabobs from these same friquitines.  Like other things I encountered today, the friquitines were still here.  In fact, it was at Piñones the first time that I had an epiphanic moment: my ex-boyfriend cared nothing about my well-being. We could have been in bumfuck Ohio or the middle east. I was merely a pawn on vacation with him & Pueroto Rico was merely the backdrop in our melodrama.
To summarize Puerto Rico is to reiterate what I wrote all along: that traveling solo – while different & full of downfalls –  was actually affirming, positive and transformative.  I learned heaps about myself during my solidarity in Australia & the week in Puerto Rico.  Being anywhere alone means you must confront your fears & desires.  It means you are the whole kit-and-caboodle.  You are your own protector, motivator, nurturer, judge, navigator and best friend. You will find company or torment (and often both) in your private thoughts.
This time around Puerto Rico was much kinder to me. The decision to go was of my own volition & my affect was in a much more stable state. This time I was rocketing myself into the world to find something new & good, instead of hurling myself into a foreign country to reconnect with a flaky, ex-boyfriend.  It was humbling, rewarding and imperative to remember the old me & introduce her to the current me.