Back to San Juan

NO, I’M NOT going back to Puerto Rico. I think about it a lot though. I also think about buying another motorcycle, which I’m not going to do either.

I lived on a roof there. Technically, it was a penthouse, but pinning the penthouse label on the place, which I’ve often done, is making it sound far fancier than it was.

The view was spectacular and, if memory serves, the rent was about $100 a month, but this was in the mid-1970s when $100 meant something. Now it’s coffee at Starbucks.

An element of this time that I haven’t mentioned in the past was my neighbors. Directly next door, and four stories down, was a police outpost that included a holding cell.

But just past that was another “high-rise” of about five floors. My building was five floors, but it sat a bit higher on an incline, so I had a view down to the roof of that other building.

That was where the hippie family lived.

We never spoke, and we rarely even waved. They were not Puerto Ricans from the look of them. The family consisted of Mama Hippie and Papa Hippie and a brood of about four or five mini-hippies, ages 8, 9, 10 and so on.

But I’m sure they enjoyed their life in the Caribbean air, there with the green sea and blue sky and almost endless ocean breezes. Off to the left was the El Morro fortress. To the right sat the hulk of San Cristóbal.

Those five stories were navigable only on foot. There was no elevator. This discouraged casual jaunts outside. And the step risers were not uniform, making the ascent more arduous. I usually went out once at midday to shop and again in the afternoon, going to the newspaper.

Five stories high does not provide a true picture because the street ran along the edge of a high cliff above the sea. Actually, I was probably about 10 stories above the surf.

Ascending the steps was up a dank, gray, concrete stairwell. On reaching my door, the topmost, you opened it and were instantly flung into another world. There was the sea, the forts, the heavens, ahead, up, and to the right.

To the left was the living-room door. The living room was tiny, and sparsely furnished. At its far end, to the right, was the kitchen, so tight that the fridge lived in the living room.

Straight ahead was a door where you entered a vestibule that provided two options. Ahead to the bathroom or right to the bedroom. Funny, I don’t remember the bathroom.

View over the bed.

The bedroom had a double bed and two windows. One was above the low headboard with a view of San Juan Bay and the mountains.

The other window was on the opposite end, just to the right as you entered the bedroom, and it opened onto the large, uncovered patio.

The entire apartment, not counting the open-air patio, would have fit into the Hacienda’s living room easily.

It was a fascinating, booze-fueled, time, often warm because there was no air-conditioning, and there was a hammock out on the patio. But the nights were cool enough.

I never encountered the hippie family, head-on. You’d think we would have passed on the street downstairs on occasion, but we never did in the 10 months I lived there atop the world.

I have quite a bit of history in the Caribbean, having visited also Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgins.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading along. I write this sort of stuff more for myself than anything. Don’t want to forget.

Always a danger in one’s dotage.

20 thoughts on “Back to San Juan

  1. Of all my travels, I recall with great fondness the warm, humid days, the glorious aloneness, and surrounding beauty of the pacific jungle village of La Manzanilla, Jalisco.

    The mosquitoes were hell, the ocean vast and menacing, yet the solitude was curative.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Get the motorcycle, and a leather jacket with a skull and cross-bones on the back; or maybe just the jacket.


    1. Carlos: You may be on to something. I was lusting after a Harley back in the mid-1970s. One Christmas my second ex-wife gifted me a Harley-Davidson key ring. It pushed me over the edge. I bought the 1977 model, black. I was so cool.

      I still use that same key ring.


  3. Nice story. My wife & I visited that very area in 2000. We enjoyed it very much. We did a lot of walking in the ‘old town’ district. In one bar they had pictures of famous visitors. One was Ronald Reagan. It’s possible that you may recall the place. We also visited the museum for the cello maestro, Pablo Casals.


    1. Smokesilver: I lived in San Juan on two occasions in the early to mid-1970s. There was only about 18 months separating them. It was a labor strike at the newspaper that finally sent me packing. Were it not for that, I very likely would still be there. I loved it. Alas, the paper, the San Juan Star, has long gone kaput even though some other publication, not really a newspaper, has picked up the name.

      Puerto Rico is today a lovely example of socialism. It’s dead broke, swimming in deep seas of red ink. A huge percentage of the population is supported by the government in one way or the other. It’s beyond pathetic. Sad.


    2. PS: I’ve only been back once since I lived there. My second wife and I went in the early 1990s for a week. We rented a car and drove through the mountains and to the other side of the island. It’s was fun. Well, except for her telling me there that she was getting goo-goo eyed over some other guy. Kinda puts a damper on a vacation no matter where you are.


  4. I like the Caribbean nostalgia pieces. I especially liked the San Juan edition of the Newspaper Days series. I´ve thought/dreamt about a move to the Caribbean, who knows maybe one day.


    1. Señor Davies: I loved it there. Now — Puerto Rico at least — God knows what it’s like due to the dire financial straits in which the island swims. It’s as bad as, or worse, than Greece from what I can make out. There was a notable crime problem in the 1970s. I doubt it’s improved.


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