Sheryl Mendoza has had the privilege of traveling domestically and internationally, but there’s something so bewitching about Puerto Rico, that it maintains a spell on her years later.
Her experience there as a Black woman was nothing less than positive, and she frequently dreams of her next visit.
It’s poetic that Sheryl fell in love with the island while attending the wedding of her nephew in San Juan in 2006. She was not only seduced by the warmth of the weather, but that of the people, with their welcoming, hospitable spirit.
“It was a fun filled week seeing all the diversity, culture, and the best part was the nature!” Sheryl told Travel Noire. The brilliance of the sea really left an impact. “Puerto Rico has the most deep blue water for your eyes to behold, and the tours to the lighthouses are exceptional. I loved the music— the sounds of the Caribbean will put you in a trance.”
The European stamp on Puerto Rico is evident as a former colony of Spain. But its place within the African diaspora is also beyond dispute, and this is most obvious in the music and food. As reported by Travel Noire, “Bomba and Plena are traditional styles of music and dance, and they would not exist without the influence of African people in Puerto Rico.”
Popular dishes like mofongo have African and indigenous roots. According to The New York Times, enslaved people who were brought to the island from Angola in the 1500s, pioneered the “technique of mashing large amounts of starchy foods, then adding liquid and fat to soften the mixture.”
The introduction to Puerto Rican staples such as mofongo, arroz con gandules and pasteles made for a great culinary experience for Sheryl. Being on the island was the perfect opportunity to treat her taste buds to new flavors.
“I was a bit afraid, but also curious about different dishes. I also felt like I was on the ‘safe side’ due to Puerto Rico having a lot of American restaurants. But I let my guard down, which led me to try mofongo, and it was amazing. I could eat that every day!”
Outside of the wedding, Sheryl explored Old San Juan, a part of the city frozen in time with its colonial buildings and cobbled streets. The enthusiasm of the locals to show her their home enhanced the experience, and in addition to giving Sheryl tours, they suggested restaurants, cultural center and nightclubs.
Was there a language barrier when communicating with locals? “I don’t speak Spanish,” Sheryl admitted. “But there was an abundance of people who spoke English every place I went, so that made it a lot easier.”
Between gestures, facial expressions and technology, languages barriers are less of a challenge than they used to be.
Sheryl’s trip to Puerto Rico was years before the pandemic, and obviously the state of travel has changed since then. But there are a few tips that travelers should bear in mind, especially women. Some seem obvious, but when you’re caught up in the novelty of exploring a new place, you’re prone to let your guard down.
“As a woman traveler, my personal experience is that whether you are traveling alone or in a group, you have to be aware of your surroundings,” Sheryl said. “Watch your luggage. Yes, travel had definitely changed since COVID, but if you are prepared, there is nothing to fear. Time management is a must. Plan to arrive at the airport as early as possible, and make sure to have room in your luggage to bring back souvenirs. If you’re going to Puerto Rico, you definitely will want to bring something home to remind you how beautiful it is.”
Sheryl’s other Caribbean adventures include trips to the Bahamas and the US Virgin Islands. Within The United States, she’s been to Florida, New York, and a number of other states. Her dream destination for the near future is Dubai.
Feel free to follow Sheryl on Instagram @Sheryls_world.