Can You Be Arrested for Carrying a Knife in Puerto Rico? (Day 1)

In our first day of the trip we’d taken an airplane, a taxi, a festively painted handicapped bus that’d been converted for public transport, a train and a three mile walk from the University of Puerto Rico campus to an affordable resting spot at the Hotel Diego, lugging our 50 lb packs the entire way.  (The walk with the packs was easier than the bus ride, for we’d been crammed onto the front and forced to stand with our packs on our backs, each turn slinging us like Christmas trees ornamented with sandals and water bottles and pack straps momentously into seated passengers.)  We’d arrived at the admissions office of UPR with unplanned hopes of being offered lodging at one of the guest dorms, after scheduling a tour of the fine university, of course.  The man with three chins turned us away due to such short notice, though he was willing to accommodate us if any rooms had been available.  Before we left, he was kind enough to point us to Diego Street where he said we’d find a cheap room.

Plaza de Diego was a flea market parade.  We passed used shoe salesmen and discount lingerie bins before spotting the small white sign for Hotel Diego.  A four foot something woman met us at the door and immediately jumpstarted our unfrequented Spanish vocabulary.  She led us down the two foot wide hall, our packs scrapping the walls the entire way, down a flight of stairs to a damp floored basement full of passenger van couch seats and blue plastic drums.  “What’s in those?” we wondered aloud.  But I didn’t know the Spanish translation for any of the words I was thinking.

The room she led us to in the back had two beds, a wardrobe, an inoperable refrigerator and a bathroom.  “Not bad for twenty bucks,” Tom said, but I was uneasy.

.  .  .

After showering I woke Tom from his upright, elbow propped nap and we ventured out.  The streets had drastically changed.  The vendors had disappeared and the entrances to the stores were all gated shut.  Cars idled in the middle of intersections while owners ran into liquor stores.  Men played checkers on the sidewalk.  Two SUVs stopped next to one another in the middle of the street and screamed at one another from open windows.  We winded back towards campus along the most trafficked streets to El Oche de Blanco, a bar where a student we’d met while passing through the university had told us we’d find a young local and college scene.  As we passed one of the dorms, two puppies came sliding across the sidewalk.  An older man in a custodial uniform followed them, speaking to them in Spanish.  As he reached Tom and me, his rapid speech and excited tone continued, but at some point it became directed at us.

Thirty minutes later I was sharing my first legal beer with our new friend Roberto and Tom at El Oche de Blanco.  Medalla is a Puerto Rican beer sold for $1, maybe $1.25 at most.  I did my best to follow Roberto and Tom’s conversation, though admittedly I knew my Spanish was going to take a little longer to warm up than Tom’s.  I caught the end of Tom saying something about the Hotel Diego and there was a huge ejaculation of words from Roberto.  When it was over Tom said, “I think he’s saying it’s not safe.”  When we left the bar, I got my knife back from the bouncer.  Roberto noticed and told me I shouldn’t carry that because if I was caught with it I could get six months in jail.  I wasn’t sure if he was being helpful or paranoid.

We followed Roberto to a convenience store down the street where he pleaded with the owner to put us up for the night in one of his apartments located upstairs.  The other costumers in the store all waved their hands in discouragement when Roberto told them where we were staying.  “No, no.  Nuestro cosas sono alli,” I tried to explain with my hands.  “Necesitamos volver…regresar.”  The man persisted that we not return to that side of town, but finally agreed to drive us himself only if we left immediately.  We squeezed into his tiny two door hatchback and he zipped us in the general vicinity of home.  He sped through a red light and turned in a direction that my instincts told me was not taking us towards the Hotel Diego.  “Tom, what’s he doing?” “Showing us something,” he said. Roberto doubled around the block and screeched to a halt across the street from a club where hip hop music poured from the alley side entrance.

“That corner, right there,” Tom translated as the man pointed.  “This is where the gringo was killed last year.  With a knife,” Tom added.  Roberto sped off into the night, dropped us at our door and told us to hurry inside.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by cole on February 28, 2010 at 4:20 am

    bro – I totally love this blog. of course, I dug through your puerto rico stuff first…i’m still making my way around it, but congrats on the start-up. it’s really a joy to read some of your experiences, and some of your prose…great great stuff man!

  2. Posted by Joe on April 28, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    I’ve been living in Puerto Rico for 20 years and everything above is a total outright manipulating lie.
    It’s a good story but it’s just not truthful.

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