It’s evening. Kavya’s packing list has been made: swimming costume, salsa dancing clothes, water bottles, chocolate, and you can’t go to Puerto Rico without packing party shoes. No idea what the hell #2 is. The Punjabi she wrote says Dadi and Dadu (her grandparents). “Those are handprints. Now I’m drawing you, Papa, you tall guy,” pretty much encapsulates the realism in the artwork. When it’s time to actually pack, she abandons the packing list and throws three fancy outfits, her capoeira uniform, sixteen toys and five massive hardcover picture books into her brand new purple dinosaur Trunki that arrived just a few days ago.
According to the receipt from a third party seller on amazon, we’d bought it from someone who also sells surgical equipment in Minneapolis. That would have been awkward if they’d jumbled up the orders and sent us a heart defibrillator instead. Close one. She declares her packing finished. No shoes, flip-flops, swimming outfits, socks, t-shirts, or underwear. Goes to sleep, relaxed. Shaiyar Singh’s contribution was to attempt to eat the Lonely Planet Puerto Rico Guidebook.
The next morning, while the kids’ bags have all been neatly packed and arranged by some magical sprites (one of them has a beard), ours are in complete disarray. I pack my bag in five minutes, with spartan military style rationed clothing. Sona has taken all five drawers from upstairs and dumped them into her suitcase, which of course she denies doing and claims it’s all part of a highly strategic algorithm-based packing system she has perfected. The Uber driver arrives within two minutes! $30. In my bleary eyed haste, I grab the most impractical shoes for the airport. They’re white with plastic high tops that go up to the shin, with bright red lacing and takes forever to remove, involving acrobatics.
I have the car seat on my head, Kavya’s booster tucked under my arm. I pause to admire the fancy Genius Pack Sona bought me for my birthday (nothing tells a traveler you love them like awesome LUGGAGE!). It’s freezing outside. We abandon our coats in the flat, layer up, and we’re carrying suitcases filled with shorts and flip-flops and swimming outfits like a bunch of mugs about to be laughed at on a reality TV show. It feels as ludicrous as last January when Sona, heavily pregnant, waddling onto the icy sidewalk with her swimming costume in one hand for our Babymoon in Atlantic City in the middle of a major winter storm.
We arrive at the airport in twenty minutes flat. Check-in without any issues. Then the most amazing thing in the security line happens that has never happened to us ever. I’m in the middle of sullenly unlacing one shoe for the mammoth task of taking these donkey sized high tops off. One of the Security guys makes this Twilight zone type announcement: “Do not remove your shoes. All laptops and electronic devices, including your iPad, should remain in your bags. This is the Family Express Lane.” I instinctively look around to make sure this is still America. Then I’m yelled at to hurry up, plastic bins thrust towards me by one of the Security guys and I am relieved. It’s still a far cry from previous years where Kavya was screaming her head off because Homeland Security thought there was a Black Muslim terrorist threat coming from her light up Doc McStuffins shoes.
We sit in our seats. Kavya pre-emptively announces she will not be using the bathroom until we get to Puerto Rico. We both nod in agreement remembering our lovely Delta flight to California together with a zero star rating for their small and loud toilet. She hated the loudness combined with the small space and the spectacularly frightening flush that feels like you’ll get sucked right out of the airplane. There’s a lot of Spanish being spoken and Kavya is gleefully telling me a word here and there that she understands from the pilot’s announcements to people chattering away. Her teachers in the dual language Pre-K she’s in are both from Puerto Rico and took the time to make a little sheet with some fun things to do. One of them was to visit El Morro, which I still haven’t read up on, other than that it’s one of two forts in San Juan. Her teachers told them there’s lots of room for running, so this is her artistic interpretation of El Morro using only black crayon and purple as an afterthought when I told her this looked like the afterlife. We spoke of many things during the flight, with a lot of energy devoted to talking about the Coqui and getting the sounds it makes just right.
Attempting to Find My Parents at the San Juan Airport
The airport initially looks like any other airport. Bright fluorescent lights, walking escalators, large open space, signs in Spanish for Departures, Arrivals, bathroom signs say caballeros and damas, lots of Spanish being spoken. Pretty much like Newark International. Or Fresno Air terminal. Or JFK. Or the countless other airports in the U.S. we’ve been to. We try to get in contact with my parents, who don’t pick up their Go Phone because it goes against their cultural beliefs. We finally get a hold of my Dad, who proceeds to tell me the precise location of where they are standing, which doesn’t include things like Gate information, but does include generic things like pillar, baggage carousel, double-glass door, elevator, escalator. After fifteen minutes of going back and forth, me lugging my bag, carseat, booster, and pulling Kavya on her Trunki while she takes all the credit for not banging into anything, we finally figure out that our landmarks and the landmarks my Dad is referring to are in two different terminals. They’re in Delta. We’re in United.
We love minimal driving and Old San Juan is perfect for going car-free, so we go outside to get a pre-paid taxi. The walk isn’t as long as the winding marathon at LAX, but it’s a good solid walk. Behind the glass windows and double doors, people are waiting with placards. Reminds us of New Delhi except without the touts and the absolute chaos.
The Unintentionally Hilarious Taxi Ride to Old San Juan
The taxi is a big, white van, with plenty of space. We give this expressionless old man with combed back grey hair, red polo shirt tucked into tight fitting jeans. He is alarmed when we tell him my parents also have two bags because the extra $2 hasn’t been added to the ticket. So he proceeds to call his superior to make sure it’s okay for him to take us. His concern with order is charming. We pick my parents up and he carefully arranges the bags and carseats so everything is in its proper place. The actual taxi ride is equally comedic. He doesn’t speak much English and as impressive as Kavya thinks our Spanish is, it’s seriously not impressive. He needs the credit card number so he has his boss on the phone and asks Sona to take out her credit card and tell him the numbers. She tells him three numbers in English which he translates into Spanish. Then there’s static on the phone, a garbled voice says something we don’t understand, lots of long dramatic pauses, and then he asks her to start again.
Kavya is in the back teaching her Dadi and Dadu Spanish, regaling them with stories from Jersey City and Spanish songs. Mom offers everyone her theory on San Juan traffic. Apparently, it looked pretty clear from the view she saw during landing, lush with greenery. We come to a grinding halt when we hit Old San Juan and snail our way down the main drag along passing San Cristobal fort, which he points out. We discuss Mom’s theory for a few minutes. The street he’s supposed to turn on is a one way, so in the ultimate badass driver move any Indian driver worth his salt would appreciate, he puts on his turn signal and proceeds to haul ass in reverse, pulling up right at the curb of our lovely vacation rental from Airbnb. Just the house itself deserves its own post. We arrive at 4pm and after settling in go for a nice long walk exploring the side streets, with a live band kicking things off and we all tried Mofongo and Morcillo. Stay tuned to hear how that went and to keep up with our Puerto Rico adventure!
Tell us about your adventure of getting (or not getting) somewhere!
MAJOR UPDATE: After racking my brain to figure out what Kavya had written for #2 on the packing list and asking twitter and Facebook, I used a very unconventional method to find out: I asked her. Roses. Two roses for Dadi and Daadu.