I wouldn’t exactly call us lazy. Okay, lazy-ish, if you must.
But once we’ve dragged our bones out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and flown four hours from D.C. to San Juan surrounded by choruses of screeching toddlers…
…I must admit we’re not enthusiastic about anything more strenuous than schlepping to an adjacent concourse in San Juan International to make our connection to Vieques.
Quite literally, the last thing we want to do is jump in a taxi and sprint across the city to depart from a different airport.
But once it sank into our thick noggins that a reasonably short taxi ride could save us hundreds of dollars each time we headed to our vacation retreat, we reluctantly abandoned our practice of connecting through the big airport…
…and switched to Isla Grande Airport instead.
In more ways than one, the switch has been a trip.
First, of course, is the taxi ride. Taxis in San Juan always smell like something really bad happened in the back seat a couple of hours before you got in (dismemberment, anyone?), at which point the driver obviously panicked and overcompensated by blasting the interior with three or four cans of air freshener.
The AC is invariably turned up to “Arctic Circle” (maybe that’s what “AC” stands for), and the windows are usually rolled all the way down, ensuring that you’re buffeted with simultaneous, sinus-challenging gusts of hot and cold air—which you hardly even notice because you’re desperately searching for your seatbelt (AWOL) while trying to avoid concussion as the driver weaves wildly in and out of 65 mile-per-hour traffic.
After whizzing past lots of un-noteworthy sites, each one more generic and run-down than the one before, the new convention center looms suddenly and impressively to the left…
…and if you’re lucky, a cruise ship much bigger than most hotels hovers to your right…
…and then you turn down a rutted lane that may or may not qualify as an alley but doesn’t remotely resemble an airport access road.
The first time we flew out of Isla Grande I suspected the driver had either lost his way or was driving us to some forlorn outpost of the city to rob and/or murder us. But just I as tried (and failed) to imagine expiring in such an un-lovely spot, the driver turned yet another corner and the little airport sprang into view.
At first glance, it’s hard to believe this was the main airport serving San Juan until the early ‘50s, when most of the action shifted to the new, much bigger airport across town which could accommodate jets.
Clearly no one has given more than five minutes’ thought to Isla Grande Airport since about 1954. To say it’s modest would be an understatement. Actually, a compliment. Its stark utilitarianism is outstripped only by its air of benign neglect.
On a good day it reminds me of an abandoned rec room in a remote psychiatric facility; on less felicitous days it begs comparison with a waiting room in a third-world-country hospital emergency room.
And yet, in spite of its homeliness, we’ve grown to love it.
Next time I’ll tell you all about the first time we flew out of Isla Grande—cocktails, rainbow and all.