“I think that to get under the surface and really appreciate the beauty of any country, one has to go there poor.”
I couldn’t get enough of Grace yesterday, so I had to include another quote from her.
When’s the last time you went on a trip and really got the feel of the city you were visiting? For most of us, travel involves picking out a vacation resort online, taking the shuttle bus from the airport to the resort, plopping our asses down at the pool, ordering up some cocktails, eating the hotel all-inclusive food, and never truly venturing out to see the local beauty or eating authentic food from the region.
I experienced this firsthand on a recent trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Instead of booking a room on the strip of luxury hotels, we stayed at the Numero Uno Guest House that was tucked into a quiet neighborhood in the Ocean Park district. We were right on the beach, and, granted, we were not visiting the region poor, but the location of our hotel took us away from the local tourist traps and, instead, we found gems like Kasalta, a neighborhood restaurant and bakery serving traditional Spanish, Puerto Rican, and Cuban foods that we frequented several times for two-dollar pastries and amazing café con leche (way better than Starbucks). I’ll never forget when we walked in the place early the first day. We arrived for breakfast, it was 6 a.m., and two young couples still dressed in their evening attire (shiny mini dresses for the girls and suits for the guys) were happily walking out of the place. They must have been up all night dancing and partying and came in for a “night” cap (Oh, to be young again!).
The best part of being off the beaten path was enjoying the vibe of the beach with the locals. We were there on a Sunday, and the neighborhood residents came out to enjoy a day at the beach, mixed in with the few of us who sat under the hotel’s umbrellas. There were vendors walking up and down the beach, lugging coolers selling cerveza and local treats, buff men and women jogging down the beach, families playing in the water, groups of teenagers listening to Puerto Rican music, a gentleman playing the guitar as he looked out at the beach, and I loved it when a man pushed his ice cream cart equipped with bells all the way down onto the beach and the kids came running to meet him. If you love to people watch on the beach, this was far better than looking at overweight, sunburned tourists and their unruly children.
So, next time you travel, try going off the beaten path, be adventurous, and try a truly “local” restaurant or hotel. Go where the locals go, and enjoy the beauty and culture of the region.
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