Puerto Rico Trip: 2020 A Memorable Year

Writer and Dreams Abroad founder Leesa Truesdell during her Puerto Rico tripLeesa Truesdell’s beloved grandma, Tata, is a continuing influence on her travels, inspiring her to fall in love with adventures abroad from an early age. While teaching English in Madrid, Tata passed away. Since then, Leesa has developed in ways her grandmother would be proud of. After taking an emotion-packed trip to Puerto Rico in December 2019, Leesa was able to honor her grandmother’s memory. Now, at the close of 2020, she takes time to remember the one and only Tata and all that she learned from her.

2020: A Memorable Year

It’s 2020. When I wrote my last piece about Tata, I did not realize how much would change and how fast it would happen. This year has been tough for all of us. It is times like these when we must remember to tell people what they mean to us often, live with conviction and purpose, and remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen. Listen up and listen hard. 

Last year, I was in Puerto Rico. Letting go has never been easy for me, nor has saying goodbye. When I returned from Spain, I worked and did not stop working. It is almost as if I did not give myself a chance to fully let go of the sadness that would creep up every time I heard a song or was reminded of her. I realized I needed to take a break from overdrive and go back to the place where all of my traveling began. So that is exactly what I did.

Feelings on Arrival

When I landed, I didn’t feel the usual buzz of anticipation when you get off and exit the aircraft. This was probably because I knew this trip had a purpose external to my personal destiny. I was there for Christmas Eve (my grandma’s favorite holiday) but also, to let go. For much of my adult life, “letting go” meant backing away from being right in a conversation. Or, letting family members have the last cookie at a holiday party.

This trip just had that feeling… yeah. It could have been a subconscious all-in-your-head feeling. But, I still did not feel that that let-me-jump-for-the-luggage-carousel-to-find-my-bag-so-I-could-explore vibe. This had a different feeling altogether. However, it was up to me as to how I chose to live in the moment. Since Tata no longer was there for me to tell her how much I loved her, it was time to set her free. After her passing in 2017, it was about time.

As I drove to the other side of the island, memories of her stories and Puerto Rico flashbacks bounced into my mind. Years of listening to her stories filled my heart. They came out right when I needed them most. It was as if those memories armed me with what I was about to encounter next. 

She would talk about Puerto Rico and her sisters over and over again. In the end, I felt like I was the adult and loving grandparent she had been to me for thirty years prior to that moment. These moments made me realize how much people have to tell if you listen.”

— Leesa Truesdell

A photo of Leesa and her grand mother, Tata. Leesa reflected on her grandmother's life and the messages she carries with her today during her Puerto Rico trip

Why Am I Really Here

When Tata passed while I was in Madrid, my father had a small portion of her ashes encased into a ceramic heart. The purpose of this heart was so that I could have her with me at all times. Truth be told, she had been in my heart since the moment she took her last breath. Although we were separated and on two different continents, I knew when she passed. Time stood still. 

So, while the sentiment was thoughtful and sweet, Tata needed to return home. She had been locked in a tiny heart for years. This was not how she would have wanted to have been remembered. I believe with conviction that she needed to be set free. She lived her life traveling the world, yet was not afforded the opportunity to go home one more time before she passed. 

She talked about Mayagüez many times over the years — as long as I knew her, which was my entire life. But, she never returned. Puerto Rico was not calling during her life until the end. That was why it was my responsibility, down to me and nobody else, to release her and to let her go. Over the years, I heard her stories and when dementia set in, she spoke of the island even more. I listened. I listened hard.

Leesa looking at a picture on a camera while at the beach in early 2020 during her Puerto Rico trip

Ashes to Ashes

The location and personal ceremony I had with Tata one last time before she physically left my hands and rejoined the earth was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life… I will never be able to put it into words. I had so many things I wanted to tell her. And, so I did. I let go. We let go together. 

William Parrish : It’s hard to let go, isn’t it?
Joe Black : Yes it is, Bill.
William Parrish : What can I tell you? That’s life.”

Quote: Meet Joe Black

Life and Legacy Beyond 2020

What things are you doing or working towards now that are helping to shape the legacy you want to leave? How are you moving past 2020?

I ask each of you to join us as we begin our life and legacy chapter of Dreams Abroad. We want to make this a space where parents, students, teachers, doctors, executives, healthcare professionals, military service members, police officers, and more can come to speak about their lives. Our goal is to not leave our loved ones behind. We want you to share a note, a phone call, or an online greeting to let them know that you care. Please join our team as we reach out with information about how you can help us stay connected.

St. Augustine, Florida: an Excursion to Remember

What is a memory? A series of intertwined images revolving around in an electricity typhoon? The main pillar of (cognitive) knowledge? Echoes of a distant time resonating through your thoughts? Without it we could not remember how to get to work or how to dress; without it, we could not be who we are, because we could not remember our past. We would not be able to know that karma is almost scientific: every action has a reaction. Or maybe it is all of this and more, all at once.

Today I find myself remembering a lot of things. The thing is, when you vividly remember something, it is almost as if you could taste it. Do you know that feeling? Have you ever missed something you barely knew? I miss how I felt when I was in St. Augustine, Florida.

Let us be clear, before every memory lies a thin veil of uncertainty. This doesn’t necessarily make memories unreliable but this is a subtle warning that everything might be or might be not as you thought it was. Remembering is a cognitive process related to imagination. It’s impossible to have any control over the human imagination. Nonetheless, this process only embellishes our memories. I had nothing but a good time in St. Augustine. As I look back on my time there, I sense the sweet taste endemic of those great, indelible, fierce memories that stand tall in the fight against oblivion. Those memories are the thing known as the time of your life.

bridge of lions xcursion

My First Impression of St. Augustine

The first thing I noticed was the architecture. I felt like I was home. This part of the US was “inhabited” by the Spaniards initially, and it’s noticeable in the architecture. The characteristic Spanish architecture is exactly the kind of architecture I would see in my own country. Regardless of its origins, it’s a themed town I would say.

It looks like it stepped out of the 16th century or so, you know? It recalls a time back to when the Atlantic was swarmed with all kinds of greedy Jack Sparrow types and the American continent was still a dream and a new opportunity — a ripe, juicy fruit for everyone and anyone to take. I even saw some pirates while I was there, actually. We were near the fort, Castillo de San Marcos, so that’s what probably sparked my imagination. Water was everywhere you looked, with the Matanzas River spilling into the ocean. A cool breeze swept through the harbor, swirling around the peaceful boats bobbing beneath the bridge. I was fascinated, honestly. This was the kind of place I love to visit.

castillo de san marcos st augustine

Seeing the City on Foot

By foot is the only way to truly see this city. We parked and got going without direction, just putting one foot in front of the other, as they will. There were lots of stores. Each shop and restaurant has a unique décor that’s coherent with the idea of the town. We saw all kinds of stuff: amazing souvenirs, clothes, toys, board games, and jewelry. You name it, it was there. A single tour of just one street took us more than half an hour. It was impossible not to stop at every single store display to stare at something. We got lost from the group once or twice because everyone was interested in something different, of course.

All in all, we had a great time just walking around. The main attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos. Castillo de San Marcos, known simply as “the Fort” by locals, is the crowned jewel of St. Augustine. It’s a great construction whose rich history is embedded into the fabric of St. Augustine itself. Speaking of great buildings: we all agreed that the city’s university almost looked like it was straight out of Hogwarts. And it really was! Flagler College sits across from the Lightner Museum, which I found out sometime later.

Florida historic

After a while, it was time to get a room. We still had some time to find a fairly priced accommodation before nighttime. After only a little bit of looking, we rented a room in a tiny, cozy hotel just beyond the bridge. The price was fair and the location was pretty decent, seeing how close we were to downtown.

St. Augustine at Night

We couldn’t leave without visiting the St. Augustine beach. Even though we went at night, there were still lots of people. There was a pier off the beach with lots of stores and food. Even though it was so dark you couldn’t see the people on the beach, the pier was alive with light. Nonetheless, we went down to the beach to swim for a little bit. Even though it might have been unwise, we stayed close to the beach.

 

I even made friends with a couple while we were at the beach. They were in their 50s and were foreigners in America, just like me. We talked a lot before he invited me for a beer. I introduced my friends when they got out of the ocean. It had been a really nice day, but after a while, it got pretty late. The beach started to run empty and we decided it was time to call it a night and went back to the car. By that time, we were experts in cleaning sand off of our shoes and feet without getting the rental car dirty. We rinsed off with the showers on the beach before returning to the hotel to get ready for the rest of the evening.

The night is where the real magic happens. The town has an eerie, mystical vibe to it. It’s only accentuated by the dark. One of the more popular things to do there is to take a haunted tour of the lighthouse. It’s said that it’s really actually haunted, but that can’t be on the tour, surely.

St. Augustine is Incredibly Charming

I really loved the journey to and from the hotel. Everything was shiny and beautiful. Even though we had a really good time, we had to go the next day. I remember how beautiful it was that night in the hotel because the moon was huge. I felt it right above me and the hotel. I’ve always had a tendency to go to sleep late, so I snuck outside to see the stars. I had a wonderful night chilling outside while my friends slept.

There are no possible words that could give St. Augustine justice. It is an incredibly charming little city. I would love to live there. I can’t wait to return someday.

Check out Carlos’s last post about his experience while studying abroad.

Castillo de San Marcos Fort st augustine