That night, just hours after our adventure off the beaten path, found us right back in Old San Juan at a welcome dinner hosted by Fuschia's parents. I'd actually seen this particular restaurant just a few days before while indulging in my love of No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain had visited this place (the name escapes me) to try the authentic pina colada in its alleged birthplace. He seemed disappointed with his experience and while I've had better (hell I've made better), I enjoyed it enough to have 4 or 8. For some reason I can't remember exactly how many.
As usually happens when I enjoy the libations a little too much I provided an impromptu therapy session for one of our dining companions, became besties with the older lady next to me and became inappropriately interested in the flamenco dancers' umm, abilities. Then it was time for the main event, the thing I had actually come to PR for: mufungo.
Root words aside, mufungo is not a mushroom; rest easy. Mufungo is a pile of smashed, fried plantain that has been mixed with pork fat, topped with veggies and/or meat, then covered with a sauce, usually tomato based. At the welcome dinner I had chosen the seafood mufungo, despite the fact that it would have a lil calamari on it. Perhaps it was the hype, perhaps it was the heat, more probably it was the vat of pina colada I had consumed, but I just couldn't do justice by my mufungo.
I tried several bites, delighted each time by the savory flavor of the plantain, the freshness of the scallops and shrimp and the brightness of the tomato sauce. A wonderful medley of flavors, yet heavier than I would have anticipated for tropical cuisine. I ate maybe a third of my plate, satisfied that I had experience this quintessential Puerto Rican dish and checked it off the mental to-do.
We literally went over the mountains and through the woods for about 40 min before I rediscovered a key piece of information about myself: motion sickness is not just a ploy to get the front seat. By the time we arrived at the venue I was too sick to appreciate anything other than the lack of motion. Attempting to climb the steps up to the main part of the hacienda I became overwhelmed with the need to avail myself of a bucket or bush and quickly stumbled off the side of the path. Realizing we had located one of the bedrooms, Fuschia helped me into one of the most peaceful, beautiful bathrooms I've ever seen so that I might refresh myself. And boy did I.
Thus reinvigorated we finished the climb only to find ourselves in an exquisite open air house that looked out over the rain forest. With all of the features one expects in a house sans walls, this hacienda was something I could never have imagined. Instantly I understood what The Geeks had fallen in love with, why they had gone to the trouble of carting us all up the side of a mountain. Built around an open courtyard, featuring rambling rooms, including den, kitchen, billiard room, and a hammock room, the house was definitively elegant romance at its finest.
We spent the next day soaking in the pool(s), lounging by the pool and playing the ocean. Clearly, an overwhelmingly stressful day. Our last night on the island was spent once again watching TV, contemplating how old we were acting.
Monday morning found us walking on the beach and having one last soak in the pool before heading upstairs to attempt containment of the disaster area that was our room. An hour of diligent battle left us with one carry-on apiece, a purse each and a sudden readiness to be headed stateside. We caught the last US Airways flight out of San Juan for the day, scheduled to arrive in Charlotte, NC a scant 30 minutes before our connecting flight to Lexington, KY would depart. Even I, in my semi-comatose state, was willing the plane to go just a bit faster.
We hit the terminal running in Charlotte; I couldn't help thinking of the scene in Home Alone (you know the one). Pushing people aside, we really worked our quads trying to make that last flight to bluegrass country. Finding ourselves at the necessary gate we were, how can I say this politely, taken aback, to discover that our flight, already getting us home close to midnight, would be delayed by ninety minutes. Turning to the only activity available in most airports, we ate some classic American junk food and read the newest People magazine while waiting to board.
Finally hearing our gate being called we headed outside (that's not a typo) to get on our plane. Having in the past flown primarily in and out of Atlanta, I wasn't aware that planes were ever actually boarded outside (except in movies, of course). But here we were. If that wasn't confidence crushing enough the plane also happened to be my favorite variety: school bus with wings. Seating roughly 49 people, these commuter jets are the only thing capable of inducing claustrophobia in yours truly. The universe was obviously having a laugh at my expense that night since the pilots appeared to be twelve and no more capable of flying a plane than I am. Perfect.
Having sobered up by now I was mildly alarmed when our flight started out a little bumpy, but I tried mightily to focus on my Southern Living. The real problem came after drinks were served and our flight attendant received a phone call from the pilots. Like any highly paranoid person , I'm attuned to nonverbal mood indicators and this woman was screaming stress. She immediately sat down in the jump seat, strapped herself in and began pounding ginger ale.
Turns out we were flying through a rager of a storm system battering the East Coast that week. Lucky us. Our lil plane bucked and shimmied, even heaving occasionally as the turbulence played kickball with us. Fuschia, fearless Fuschia, turned an alarming shade of green and began gripping the armrests. Strangely it was a look being sported by a majority of passengers. And just like that I became the fearless one. Concentrating all my efforts on helping her feel better, I forgot that I was scared, forgot that my Sprite was sloshing violently and just comforted my partner.
As you may have inferred by now, our plane did land safely in Lexington, though that 40 minutes in the air remains the longest 2/3 of an hour I've ever spent. While I still gaze longingly at travel pieces featuring the Maldives, Tahitti or New Zealand, one thing is for certain: I'm never flying in a toy plane again.