Photography and Text by Alexis Masino, Copyright 2017
Before this trip, I had never been outside the (continental) United States. Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., but it’s an entirely unique place on its own. There are stark differences between my city of residence and this island, but the contrasts lie primarily in the small details. Stepping off the plane, I was immediately overcome by the humidity (having left Philadelphia in the snow, my body was not quite prepared for such a change). The chatter of the people around was in Spanish, as were the signs and advertisements. Since there is a law against Ubers at the airport to protect the jobs of taxis we took a cab to our AirBnB, communicating directions with rough Spanish. When we arrived in Old San Juan it was dark, so there wasn’t much to be seen except the tight alleys and cobblestone roads. Several steep upward staircases later, I was in a beautifully modern yet antique home full of colors and open space.
The next morning, I was surprised by the views brought by the sunlight. From the balcony in the front of the house, I could see all the colors of the surrounding buildings and the bustle of people down on the streets. Never have I experienced a place with so much vibrancy and life, especially from the architecture but also from the people, even on a rainy day. From the back balcony, I could see a vast expanse of homes and shops, as well as one of the famous castles in the distance. There was always a constant chatter and buzz of people, no matter how early or how late at night, as well as a consistent hum of lively spanish music in the distance. I took an interest not only in the people, the architecture, and the buzz of life, but also in the lot of stray dogs and cats across the island.
This first day was spent exploring the city and local restaurants. I took a particular interest in the vendors and the native people. Living and working in a place heavily concentrated with and reliant on tourism, they are versed in interacting with people. A particular vendor noticed me taking a photo on the street and decided to pose with his hand under his chin, unknowingly perfecting the photo with his joke. Another vendor makes an appearance in the right corner of a photo, arms crossed with a serious gaze. In yet another photo, an ice cream vendor scoops sorbet into a cup for my friend.
At Condado Beach, the water is impossibly clear and the sand is warm but not sticky, a perfect place to take in the beauty of it all. My favorite photo here, again, is of a vendor pulling his cart across the length of the shore, tempting the patrons with ice cream. The next day, I hiked the El Yunque rainforest. It was cold and rained constantly (I ended up with the flu) so there are not many photos I particularly enjoy from this adventure. However, there is one inside the tower showing the view from three similar windows which I feel captures my entire experience in its simplicity.
Over the next few days, I visited two castles: Castillo de San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe Del Morro. Again, I was captivated more by the simplistic details than anything: the colors, the patterns, the symmetry. I visited one on a rainy day and the other on a beautifully sunny day, which made for an even more stark contrast between the two and the ways in which they are portrayed in my photos. As the plane took off to head back to Philadelphia around sunset, the clouds lit up and the moon appeared above the wing of the plane as if to remind me that I was leaving the beautiful sunshine and vibrancy, allowing me to take it all in one last time.
About The Author: Alexis Masino is a freshman enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Alexis Masino, go here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/alexis-masino-drugs/