Tuesday, June 23, 2015

So Many Stories, So Little Time

“To see contemporary travel writers merely as touristic scribes-as latter-day tourists with typewriters-is to fail to recognize their efforts to re-explore regions of the world that, although "discovered," remain unfamiliar, or to revive interest in familiar places, now seen from a fresh, informed perspective. It is also to underestimate the unsettling effects produced by travel writing: its ability to jolt its readers out of complacent beliefs and attitudes, and its challenge to prevailing stereotypes and cultural myths of place.” - Patrick Holland and Graham Huggan. "Travel Writing Today."

We all have our stories to tell and I suppose I have mine as well. About two years ago, I took a trip to Puerto Rico with my husband and son. My decision to visit Puerto Rico over other areas in the Caribbean was based on two facts. 1. Traveling to Puerto Rico was much less expensive than other areas in the Caribbean. 2. You did not need a passport to go to Puerto Rico. (I had a passport but my husband and son did not.) Plus, there was the added bonus of Puerto Rico having a beach, cell phone service that wouldn't break the bank, and a rainforest. It was the perfect tourist destination. I was expecting Puerto Rico to a great "beach vacation" but what I got was so much more than that!

Traveling to Puerto Rico is a unique experience in and of itself. It is unquestionably beautiful but, more interesting, is the very essence of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is simultaneously part of the United States, while also, not. Traveling around the island of Puerto Rico you will see the United States’s influence of it. Almost everyone I encountered spoke English, U.S. money was exchanged, and the American flag was proudly on display. However, when looking around it is easy to see how Puerto Rico is very distinctly different. While, yes, most people on the island speak English, Spanish is their native language. Signs along the interstate are written in Spanish with pictures. (Yes, pictures. And that is another story for another day).

Old San Juan is rich with Puerto Rican history. We got to visit San Fort Cristobal and El Morro, which was used by the Spanish to control who entered and left the Caribbean. The fort itself was amazing but it was view that made the fort spectacular.

Completed in 1783 by the Spanish

The view from the Fort

Another Puerto Rican experience we had while hanging out on the beach. A man selling coconuts approached us. We bought one from him and he talked to us about the proper way to get coconut juice from it. He carried a machete and cut open a hole at the top for us so we could drink the juice. His English was a little limited but we were able to get the just of it through a combination of words and hand gestures. He told us to find him after we drank all of the juice and he would cut it open (with his giant machete, of course) so we could eat it. After we drank the juice (which we didn’t care for) we found him again and he chopped the coconut in half and showed us how to peel off the inner layers and eat it. We tried the coconut and it was tough and kind of felt like chewing on flavored leather. Definitely not the best thing I have ever tried. Even though we hated the coconut juice and the coconut itself it seemed to be such a truly authentic cultural experience; eating a coconut grown on Puerto Rico while lounging on the beach.

Chimamanda Adichie in her TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story" discusses the dangers of only hearing a single story. By listening to the man on the beach’s story, I was told a single story; the one of a man that sells coconuts to tourists on the beach for a living. While this man’s story is important, it is not the only story that was to be told in Puerto Rico. It was only one of many. Before visiting Puerto Rico the single story I had of Puerto Rico was that it was a tourist destination. However, after visitng and experiencing their rich culture, I have a more complete story. 

The coconut was a little different in appearance than we would have thought! It was green instead of brown!

The trip to Puerto Rico was truly an eye-opening experience to me. It was such a unique experience being able to see a culture that is so intertwined with ours. As David Spurr points out, “The encounter between one culture and another cannot finally be distinguished from any, given culture's continued confrontation with its own ruptures and discontinuities.” Puerto Rico fights to keep it own traditions and cultures, while also attempting to adopt customs of the United States.


  1. Hi Ashley,
    Love your title... holy cow, a YA blog...Do you write YA?
    Great blog on your Puerto Rico trip and how the story supports the main quote from the class readings this week. From the pics of the fort, it looks like two completely different places. I am sure that it is to people just arriving by boat and from those looking out from it for protection.

  2. Ashley,
    Your description of how U.S. elements are prevalent in Puerto Rico is interesting and tells us a lot about their culture and America's influence on it. You can expand on your connection of the man selling coconuts to the single story you have of him - does that single story say anything about Puerto Rico itself - maybe how Americans see it is a tourist destination?

    I also think your post can be more effective if you tell us your single story of Puerto Rico and why this story drove you to go there. Did you think it was a tourist destination? Have you heard about the rich culture of Puerto Rico and you wanted to witness it? How does the man selling coconuts fit into the version of the story you had?

    Your travels are amazing and I'd really like to read about your perspective on the places you've traveled to compared to the perspective you had before you went. Doing that for this post would fit well with the prompt, as you can discuss how you have a different story of Puerto Rico (or not) now that you've visited.

    Thanks for sharing!


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