A strong woman loves, forgives, walks away, let’s go, tries again, and perseveres… no matter what life throws at her.--- Unknown
Puerto Rico was my first Caribbean island. Tired and fed up with,
“Hi! How are you today? Today’s specials are… Can I get you a drink to start?” and,
“Service was great! You’re really funny! Here’s a 10% tip. See you soon!”
I needed a break. But without much money, having paid my way through Brooklyn College via credit cards, and nagged by guilt whenever I spent money on travel, I wanted to get away without breaking the bank.
So, in 1998, I decided on a quick, easy trip to the island. Affordable and a mere four hours away from NYC, I also chose the commonwealth for its cool history, Spanish/English speakers and good-looking men. Although, sadly, to my great disappointment, I discovered, from what I could tell, most Boricua hotties lived in the Bronx! But then again, nothing is sweeter than the gentle, gap-toothed, hump-backed ministrations of an el viejo.
Puerto Rico was my first Caribbean island and it was also my first experience with a solo tax. What’s this? A solo tax is akin to a pink tax. What is that? A pink tax is where women are charged more for products just because we’re women. (Gross. It’s a thing. Google it.) A solo tax isn’t gender specific, but it does penalize travelers who choose to go it alone, charging them more for a single room occupancy. (Again, it’s a thing. Look it up.) The same room that might cost $75 a night is jacked up to $90 because only one person will use it. How is this fair? I don’t know, but it is a standard practice and hell on a single woman’s pocket book. Hence the reason I booked a poor people’s hotel instead of something a bit nicer. (See last month’s post An Invisible Girl.)
But even on a budget, a girl can have a good time. Puerto Rico was beautiful. Its sandy beaches charming, the El Yunque Rainforest lush, if a bit intimidating. I enjoyed learning the history of the island and listening to the waves crash against the stone ramparts of Fort San Cristobal and the Caparra Ruin. I spent hours wandering the colorful streets of Old San Juan. And as I like to do if I can, I ventured out into San Juan proper where the locals lived. San Juan was quiet, a little run down, but vibrant in its own way and not nearly as devastating as the residential areas of Cancun, which glitter like something inside a magic globe until you step off the yellow brick road and the gold-plated stars fall to earth.
A non-driver, I used a tour to reach the rainforest and historic sites but hewed closer to the tourist area when left to my own devices. Naturally I hit El Batey, one of Old San Juan’s oldest bars. It was gloriously divey and determined to give CBGB’s disgusting bathrooms a run for their money. I loved it.
My time in PR was a series of long lazy walks, long lazy swims, and long lazy pulls on a rum bottle. Perfection…that is until my credit card stopped working. My first real, sustained jobs were in restaurants and bars. I am a cash and carry girl. I always carry cash and prefer to pay with cash. Despite airline mile points and other incentives, I find it easier to monitor my spending with cash than credit card. Once the money budgeted for that day is gone, it’s gone, and I’m done. ( I have been known to go over budget, but I always pay myself back!)
That said, when traveling, I like to treat myself to at least one lavish meal per trip. Which is what I was doing on my last night on the island. After a delicious three course meal---not the Monfongo---I presented my card only to be told it didn’t work. Unbeknownst to me, along with a solo tax, there was such a thing as calling your credit card company to let them know you were traveling out of the country. Cue the panic. Cue the sweat. And then see my earlier statement about cash.
Friends have always teased me about my old-fashioned ways, my starchy rationalism and fondness for over-preparation. But I have always stood my ground. I may be weirdly over-cautious, but I am also the one everybody comes to at the end of the night for money for that last drink, a sunrise breakfast, or cab fare. I have an absolute terror of being caught up short, which only rivals my absolute terror of running out of books to read while traveling. My backups have backups. So, after blotting the flop sweat from my brow, I handed my waitress the amount of the bill in cash.
Disaster averted, I enjoyed the rest of my last night on the island. And on the flight home I carried sun-kissed skin, a relaxed demeanor, and pride in prudence. While my trip to Puerto Rico may have been my first to a Caribbean island, my first experience with a solo tax, and the first time my credit card was declined, it was not the first or last time neurotic foresight saved the day, the trip, and my sanity.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in November when I explain that sometimes it’s okay to go your own way
when traveling with a friend.
In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!
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