Back in Washington, which at the moment seems a million miles from our little beach house a block away from the ocean where my girlfriends and I have escaped to for a long weekend, Mio is my escape from the craziness of DC, my little piece of Latin America right in the heart of the Capitol. Being surrounded by everything boricua at the restaurant for the past year and a half – the flavors, the culture, el accento, la energía – of Puerto Rico made this visit to the island long overdue.
Away from the stress of life and grad school, I feel at home. Even though I have never been to Puerto Rico before this trip, it is familiar in a comforting way. Familiar to Barranquilla, which I called home for a year, familiar in the way that there are indescribible things that make you know that you are in Latin America, in the Caribbean. Familiar from all the stories I had heard from the people with whom I work every day.
The island has invigorated our senses for the past 4 days. The smell of the ocean, its brilliant turquoise shades of blue, the sound of salsa and reggaeton escaping from restaurants and cars cruising down Ashford Ave, the feeling of the humid Caribbean air against your skin. And the tastes. Oh, the delicious Criollo flavors. The rich, strong Puerto Rican coffee, accompanied by pastelitos de guayaba from Kalsalta Bakery around the corner for breakfast. The mofongo – mashed plantains – with shrimp, the piononos – ripe plantains wrapped around ground meat, bursting with flavors of peppers and onions, the tostones…yes, the delicious yellow plantain finds itself at the heart of so many dishes. We have dined along the beach, at Uvva at Hosteria del Mar and at Perurican, the ocean breeze blowing into the restaurant through the open windows. Last night’s dinner at Perurican showcased a fusion of Peruvian and Puerto Rican flavors, a cocktail menu filled with pisco, fresh ceviche bursting with flavors, a pitcher of champagne sangria, arroz con pollo, mamposteao con carne.
I knew before I came down to to little island that Puerto Rico was somehow a part of me, a culture I have adopted, much in the way that I did Colombia, and tomorrow I will fly home a little more boricua, un poco más Latina de corazón.