“More than meets the eye” is a good way to describe David. Tall and gentile, at first he comes across as an easygoing southern gentleman who can easily make polite conversation. While that may be true, once you get to know him you are treated to a highly intelligent, caring, and deeply emotionally mature person who has had many more life experiences than he initially lets on. Spending time with David is always a delightful revelation. We were fortunate to get some quality time with David during our recent tour to Puerto Rico.
Zoom: What made you decide to take this trip with Zoom Vacations to Puerto Rico?
David: Before we ever had discussions about a feverish pandemic known as Covid-19, I booked a trip with Zoom Vacations to Russia. Unfortunately, the journey, scheduled for September 2020, had to be postponed due to the circumstances and conditions. I was about to celebrate my retirement from the company where I had been a pharmacist for many years. I was also celebrating my 60th birthday. Joel called me one day this past March and said he was inviting me and a few others on this Puerto Rico trip for a small-group tour. Naturally lofty for adventure, I was excited for the opportunity to get out of town and travel somewhere new. He said that he grew up in Puerto Rico and explained how this trip was to see “Puerto Rico through my eyes.” I knew that this would mean seeing and doing things that most tourists would never have the opportunity to experience. Before he could finish telling me about it, I was on board.
Zoom: What was your favorite part of the trip?
David: While experiencing the history of San German with our tour guide, he made it possible for us to visit an old pharmacy, the Museo La Farmacia Dominguez, established in 1877. I have always had a passion for old pharmacies, which made this a bonus to the trip. The decorative shelves held apothecary jars of all types. The porcelain jars and bronze-colored bottles had artistic calligraphy that spelled the product’s name of what was inside, be it drug or otherwise. In addition, there were many glass show globes on display, each filled with various eye-soothing colors of water. The old scales on the countertops included the original weights and tools that are still in use today. Well-displayed old photos of pharmacists in another era were along the walls. In addition, there were neatly framed original recipes and written prescriptions. Finally, there was a fascinating object that stood in the pharmacy corner. It was an unusual mechanical device that measured around 4 feet tall. It appeared to contain mostly copper tubing and brass, yet attached to it was an old soda bottle. The device, we learned, was a press that heated and extracted cocaine from coca leaves which were part of the original Coca-Cola recipe, introduced in 1885.
Zoom: That is fascinating! There is one we visit in Dubrovnik that is several hundred years old. It’s fascinating. Our groups so often love historic pharmacies like this.
Speaking of groups, what was it like traveling as part of a group trip during Covid-19?
David: I was very encouraged to see that the group members were vigilant in staying safe and healthy. Everyone was mindful of the importance of having good sanitary practices, both for themselves and all people. Altogether, we made a good team. Someone always had hand sanitizer to share with everyone, and we all looked out for one another regarding wearing our face masks. Since masks were still required both outdoors and indoors, we continually reminded one another to “grab your mask” when we parked the van and as we went from place to place. So, we looked out for one another. In addition, we were all fully vaccinated before the trip and had completed the Puerto Rico Travel Declaration, which was a requirement for entry onto the island. This declaration included having a negative Covid test within 72 hours before arriving. Thus, I felt that Puerto Rico was looking out for the group’s well-being and all individuals.
Zoom: Did this trip give you a better understanding of Puerto Rico?
David: Yes, indeed it did. I learned a lot about Puerto Rico that I never knew as we traveled to the many towns and municipalities. Besides the fact that the island has many beaches, there are also mountains, tropical rainforests, waterfalls, caverns, and caves. I was not aware that this island, about the size of the state of Connecticut, features so many wonders in a relatively tiny place. I already knew that the people of Puerto Rico are United States citizens and that the currency is the U.S. dollar, but I failed to realize how easy it is to go there, travel around, and communicate.
Zoom: Yes, it is right at the doorstep of mainland USA. What did you learn about Puerto Rico that you didn’t know before?
David: Almost everything I saw along the way became new information for me. I had already known that Christopher Columbus had made his first voyage from Spain in 1492. I knew he had landed somewhere other than the mainland of what would later become the United States, but I wasn’t exactly sure where. Then, during one of the guided tours, I learned that Columbus had landed in San Salvador. The following year, 1493, he made his second voyage from Spain and arrived on land in Puerto Rico on November 19th.
Also, I learned that frogs are a beloved symbol in Puerto Rico, but none so famous as the little frog known as a coqui.
Zoom: Ah, the coqui, you surely heard it often in the countryside. A lot of people go to Puerto Rico and stay only in San Juan. Did you feel it was worthwhile going to other parts of the island?
David: As much as I enjoyed San Juan, I am so glad that I had more of a complete taste of Puerto Rico. As Joel had mentioned to me, many tourists and groups would probably not have done or seen half the things that we were able to. Some of the more memorable things we were able to visit included the Parque de Bombas firehouse in Ponce, the Los Morillos lighthouse in Cabo Rojo, the Porta Coeli church in San German, and the Rio Camuy caves. These highlights allowed us to experience more of what Puerto Rico is all about than if we had only toured San Juan.
Zoom: How did you enjoy traveling as part of a gay group?
David: For me, traveling in a gay group is always the best way to travel. I have been on several trips otherwise, but the three Zoom trips I’ve experienced were somehow the most relaxing. There are always great conversations and plenty of open discussions. I find that everyone relates better to one another, and a sense of comradery forms. I have always had more acquaintances that I keep in touch with after traveling with members of a gay group than I do otherwise. In addition, these groups always seem to have more fascinating adventures and stories of their travels.
Zoom: Did you make new friends on the trip?
David: I did make new friends on this trip, not all of whom were in the group. The guys met several friendly people while we were poolside at the hotel in San Juan. Several of us were at the pool while we were in San Juan and talked with a few friendly travelers. Another member of our group is from Dallas as well. We met a couple from Dallas one afternoon, and we all shared contact information. Since returning home, all of us Dallas guys have made plans for an upcoming get-together for Sunday brunch. I am looking forward to it.
Another member of our group recognized me when we all met the first day. It turned out that we were actually on another Zoom Vacations tour together several years ago. We had a brief discussion about possibly both traveling again on an upcoming Zoom trip. We have been in touch with emails back and forth. I think that everyone on the Puerto Rico trip with social media accounts is linked together now. Many of the guys on this trip were also on the schedule for the trip to Russia last September. I would love to travel with any of the group members again, and hopefully, we can make that happen soon.
Zoom: Did you feel like you received an insider’s perspective on Puerto Rico?
David: Absolutely! As Joel mentioned when we first spoke, we had the privilege of seeing many things in Puerto Rico that many tourists would not see; mostly the things he could show us from having grown up there. Because we traveled to many places around the island, there was no doubt that we saw more than most anyone else would who was visiting the island. In addition, all of the personal tour guides who showed us places that included Old San Juan, Ponce, San German, The Caves of Camuy, Rincón, and Aguada indeed had a true passion for their home. Each gave us a wealth of information that we would not have gotten in a large group of tourists.