Puerto Rico is extremely touristic. So much that, the real Puerto Rico can be rather elusive. At least, at the beach towns around San Juan, the capital. Add to that the fact that we came to visit during Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, and you can understand that breathing in some authentic Puerto Rican vibes might not be as straight forward as one could have hoped for.
On Easter Sunday, we decided to leave Isla Verde, the area where we got an Airbnb, to explore the South of Puerto Rico. The plan was to reach the Southwest corner of the island for sunset, and stop in the city of Ponce for lunch.
We never saw sunset over the beach and we didn’t eat in Ponce either. But we did get acquainted with a down-to-earth side of Puerto Rico, that was unknown to us until then.
Because one of us couldn’t wait 20 minutes to reach Ponce, we had to make a random stop off the highway, to use the bathroom.
As it was almost 3PM and we were all hungry, serendipity led the way to Jannelly’s Kitchen, the best restaurant we’ve experienced in Puerto Rico so far.
There’s something magical that happens when you step out of touristic places, particularly in heavily visited places. All of a sudden, people have more time to talk, are curious to know where you come from and how come you chose their corner of the world to some spend some time at. Somehow, even the food tastes better!
So there we were in Juana Diaz, a small town in the South of Puerto Rico, enjoying a delectable Easter Sunday lunch with extremely pleasant live music (see a snippet of it on our Instagram!), surrounded by no one except locals. They weren’t just people from Puerto Rico, these were the folks from Juana Diaz! Who thought it was rather funny a group of two Indians and one Portuguese ended up in their town out of all places:
You are from India, for real? I would love to travel to India. There are many people and animals there!
After Jannelly’s Kitchen made us happy, it would have been easy to call it a day and just go for a nap. Instead, we decided to walk around Juana Diaz. On a warm sleepy Sunday afternoon, most businesses were closed.
We only saw the odd couple walking around and groups of older men playing board games and drinking. The city was colorful, people were approachable and, perhaps, with the aid of that passion fruit sangria we had at Jannelly’s, I felt really happy.
I felt happy that I am privileged enough to travel to Puerto Rico with my loved one and best friend. And I felt even happier because this little detour reminded me to never judge a place during the first couple of days I spend there. To let go of preconceived ideas. To never try to figure out a country based only on its capital city. And to make an effort to step outside the obvious. Because time and time again, our experiences have proven that the best moments when you travel happen when you do not plan much.
So if you are ever in Puerto Rico (or any other place on Earth, really), take a random trip. Rent a car, drive on and stop wherever you fancy. Or take a bus and exit before your final stop. Take your time to explore, walk around unlikely streets, improvise, be open to talk to people and let things happen. Juana Diaz is not a “one of a kind town” – there are probably many places like it, waiting to be explored by those not shy to go with the flow.
Spontaneity will take you places no map ever will!