Saturday, January 22, 2011

Life in the Casual Lane

Life in the tropics definitely tends to the casual, and that applies even (especially?) to the tourist industry in Puerto Rico. Veva and I visited the island in January and had several interesting (and sometimes hilarious)

We decided to visit the Rio Camuy caves (one of the largest cave systems in the world); we'd never seen them, partly because they'd been closed for the last several years due to a death caused by flash flooding in the caves. Nasty. But they reopened last February and we decided it was time to check it out.

As we drove up to the gate entrance to the caves, a young man handed us two tickets, with numbers on them. A woman drove out at the same time and told us "I'll be back in an hour. The cafeteria is open."

Huh? Oh, yes. I looked at my watch. Noon. Lunch time. Bye bye, workers! So we drove in and parked, and followed signs to buy tickets. But no one was there. The only person who sold tickets was out to lunch, so we would just have to wait. Veva, myself, and a handful of other people. An hour later, there must have been 50 people waiting to buy tickets and take a trolley ride down to the caves.

"Not to worry," I said to Veva, the tickets have numbers, so they will take us in order.

Well, maybe in some alternate Puerto Rican universe, anyway.

The lady returned, and the line immediately formed, winding its way through the waiting area. And she started selling tickets, but no numbers were announced, no effort was made to sell them in order. And the line moved VERY slowly. Fifteen minutes later, a fellow announces over the PA system: "Visitors holding tickets 133 to 163 can get on the trolley now." We had numbers 153 and 154. So I was forced to go to the front of the line and ask what I was supposed to do. Without a word, without any sort of push-back, she sold me the tickets.

No one on the line (now) behind me complained. Everyone seems to be quite used to messy, chaotic processes and the need to bypass the rules now and then, or most of the time. If I went to the front of the line, people seemed to be thinking, I must have had a good reason.

So we made it on to the trolley and they clearly went to great lengths to fill every seat: "Don't worry about being separated - it's just for 10 minutes."

Down we went and into the caves, and that was incredible - an enormous cavern and wonderful hour later, we emerged, milled around, and then the trolley arrived to take us back.

After a few moments, the trolley left - and I looked over to see a mother and child still sitting in the waiting area. I am sure she was waiting for her husband and perhaps another child to emerge. More than that, I knew for a fact that at least two other women were still inside the cave.

But the fellow leading our group did not make the slightest effort to ensure that all seats were filled, that everyone was present and accounted for. We just took off. I wonder how they made it back, if every trolley was filled to capacity?

Don't worry, be happy. It's not exactly Jamaica on the island of Puerto Rico, but it's also not high stress, big city living. Everything will work out and, anyway, it gets too hot to get too worked up about anything. I kind of like it, even though it can frustrating when you are in the midst of the chaos and have a controlling personality.

No comments: