Puerto Rican Invitation

Last week, we joined my sister and brother-in-law for a vacation in Puerto Rico. We stayed at a resort in Dorado, a little coastal town, 40 minutes west of San Juan. Our days were filled with island adventures. Hiking in the El Yunque Rainforest. Kayaking under a canopy of mangrove trees to Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay. Swimming with a manatee in the Caribbean Sea. Snorkeling through coral reefs, home to thousands of magical living creatures. Traversing Isla Palominitos, a small island of soft, white sand. Listening to the chorus of coqui (tiny tree frogs).

At night, we ate fish and tostones and searched for Puerto Rican music. We owe our fascination with Latin music to Ariela. She took a class at SF City College. For a while, our house was filled with sounds from the Caribbean and Central and South America.

We combed the streets of old San Juan, but clubs were closed or had recorded music. We made several stops near the capital without much luck. On the last night, we had dinner in Dorado. Our waitress told us about a festival in the center of town. It was after 11pm, but she assured us that the music would go on at least until 2. Just down the road, we found a carnival scene with amusement park rides, booths with fried plantains, more booths selling drinks in long glasses, and a stage with a Latin band. Strings, percussion, and brass. Lots of brass. People of all ages were dancing. Changing partners. (The fellow in the center of the video is dancing with three women.) Everyone knew the steps, the moves, the rhythm, the turns, the swings. Salsa, merengue, rumba. I tried to follow the women who were dancing in front of me. One, two, three, then was it a kick or a side-step?

People sang along. A short Puerto Rican man tried to teach us the words. Another Puerto Rican with a head scarf grabbed my hand and directed Gary to dance with a young woman. I tried to follow, but I wasn’t very good. “You are beginners,” the man said. “Come back. We will teach you.” How can I refuse an invitation from people who truly know how to celebrate?

video by Lynn Brotman