Quite a change from San Juan, Puerto Rico
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
In fall 1989, Luis Polar came to the United States from Puerto Rico with his friend Isaac to study photography at Colorado Mountain College. What he didn’t realize at the time was that the Roaring Fork Valley was to be the place he would eventually call home.
Polar: I remember vividly landing at the old Stapleton Airport and being very scared. It was a very big airport compared to the one in San Juan. There were no signs in Spanish that I can recall. We stepped off the airplane and slowly followed the signs to the luggage area where we picked up our stuff. And we had a lot of it, of course, because this was a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip.
The question we were asking ourselves was, “What do we do now?” We ended up spending the night at the airport because we were afraid to talk to people. We were afraid that we didn’t know what we were saying, that our accent was going to sound too funny and that no one would be able to recognize what we were saying. So my friend Isaac and I went back and forth, “Hey, ask them where we catch the bus around here.” “No, no you ask them.” So we spent the night at the airport.
The next morning, we realized that we couldn’t spend our lifetime in the airport. We had to move forward. So one of us went and asked someone, “How do we get to Glenwood Springs?” And they told us to go to Denver and catch the Greyhound.
So we took the bus to Glenwood and we pulled in to the bus stop there by the Village Inn and I remember thinking to myself, “Where the heck have I landed? What is this tiny little town?” I came from San Juan, which is a very big city and for me it was a shock to go from such an enormous metropolitan area to this tiny town. This was back in 1989, so it was really small then. I was saying to myself, “OK. I chose this, and I have to make the best of it.”
We were met by someone from the college, and they took us even further into the “boonies” up to Spring Valley. But as soon as I got there I fell in love with the place, the beautiful sight of Mount Sopris right in front of us, the pine trees, the deer.
I remember how green everything was here. San Juan is an urban area with lots of concrete and asphalt, steel and buildings. Coming to Spring Valley at that time was an immediate connection with me and my love for nature, a love I have had since I was a kid. I knew then that I had found something very special.
So I went from Puerto Rico to Denver, Denver to Glenwood Springs, Glenwood Springs to the wilderness because my first class was a backpacking trip before regular classes even started. It was called Mountain Orientation, and we spent six days in the mountains hiking with not much more than a backpack, some food and a tent. That experience had a big impact on me, spending time with no technology and no roads. We had nothing but ourselves, our boots and the countryside.
I remember one night we camped by Lost Man Lake on Independence Pass, and I woke up at around 3 in the morning to these noises on the top of the tent. I stuck my head out and it was snowing. I had never seen snow from the heavens. I had seen it on the ground but never coming from the clouds. Wow! It was amazing. I started yelling and screaming, “It’s snowing, it’s snowing!” I woke everybody up.
That was a profound experience for me. It was one of the many, many things that I have loved about Colorado ” the outdoors, the wilderness, the people, the mountains, the lakes, the rivers ” and everything else that this beautiful state has to offer.
When I came here I was always thinking, “How am I going to live so far away from the ocean?” In Puerto Rico, the ocean was only minutes away, and I didn’t know how I was going to live without it. But, over time, I have replaced the ocean with the rivers, with the mountains, with the trails, with the lakes.
Luis Polar is the editor of La Tribuna.
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