Written by nmagann on 29 May, 2012
Culebra is wonderful place to spend the day. Locals visit on the weekend so its best to go on the weekend. The earliest ferry from Fajardo leaves at 9:00am and the last ferry returns at 5:00pm. This may not seem like enough…Read More
Culebra is wonderful place to spend the day. Locals visit on the weekend so its best to go on the weekend. The earliest ferry from Fajardo leaves at 9:00am and the last ferry returns at 5:00pm. This may not seem like enough time, but it is. Staying overnight in anything less that one of the resorts that are off by themselves, puts you at the disadvantage of finding very few places in which to dine. All we found were fast food taco, Chinese and pizza restaurants. The hours are limited as well.Culebra is more like two islands side by side and this is where the ferry arrives. The smaller island to the right, means you cross a small bridge. There isn't much here, all the beaches are on the other side. Each beach has a different function. Transportation is either by publicos which are a flat $3 or a rental golf car at a whopping $70 a day. Renting a bike for $25 seems like a good idea until you realize all the roads are hilly which is why mountain bikes and not beach cruisers are for rent.I was given a ride to Tamarind Beach by Brandi from Culebra Hostel. She was spot on for taking me to a great place to snorkel. From the parking lot I head out towards the right where there was rocks and coral. Here I saw four cuttlefish that I hovered over for quite a while. As they changed colors from blue to red to silver, I had time to take a couple of video clips. They seemed to know I simply wanted to take it all it and meant them no harm. I bid them goodbye and floated off. As I admired the variety of small colorful fish I caught sight of a spotted eagle ray gliding effortlessly along the sea floor.I came out long enough to drink some water and head out in the opposite direction where I quickly came to floor of sea grass. First one, then two, then three, then 20 something. Small turtles and big turtles, solo ones and pairs, eating grass and coming up for air ----- turtles everywhere. This must have been the results of the nesting from a couple of months ago. So many turtles so easily accessible was quite a treat.I head up the road to the main road where I hopped to hail a publico. A fully loaded golf car passed by me and the one behind pulled over to ask if I wanted a ride. I happily accepted figuring they would take me to the main road, but as was typical with the people of Culebra, they took me all the way back to the pier. It was a nice way to end the day. Close
Written by stomps on 15 May, 2007
While many local airlines do fly from both San Juan and Fajardo to Vieques, we chose the slightly longer and much cheaper option of riding the ferry across the ten miles separating Puerto Rico and its tiny island province. This ferry leaves from the Fajardo…Read More
While many local airlines do fly from both San Juan and Fajardo to Vieques, we chose the slightly longer and much cheaper option of riding the ferry across the ten miles separating Puerto Rico and its tiny island province. This ferry leaves from the Fajardo Ferry terminal (from which ferries to Culebra, another island off the Puerto Rican coast, also leave) and costs a grand total of $4 for a round trip ticket.The ferry ride took about an hour. There were two floors to the boat, and the upper was mostly covered but was still outdoors. I don’t do well indoors on rocking boats, so I chose the top, along with nearly everyone else in our group. None of us really minded the ride over, since none of us got seasick and all of us enjoyed the nice view of brilliant blue water and the cloudy visage of Puerto Rico on the horizon. We even got to see a sinking boat in Fajardo Harbour, although we’re not sure whether its owner knew it was sinking or not! On the way back, we took the 6:30am ferry so we could spend the rest of the day visiting El Yunque and Luquillo. Obviously, not many people were awake for this ride, but I did my best to stay awake to see the sun rise over Vieques. Unfortunately, the seat I picked—which had promised the best pictures, being the last one on the boat—was also the only totally uncovered seat. This would have been fine except for the rain and the torrents falling off of the roof, straight onto me. I stayed there just long enough to watch the sky light up in pinks and oranges as the sun slowly pulled itself up over the horizon and then found a much drier seat in which to sleep for the rest of the way!There are many ferries—both passenger and cargo—to and from Vieques throughout the day. Passenger ferries leave Vieques for Fajardo at 6:30am and 11am daily, 3pm Monday through Friday, and 1pm and 4:30pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. Passenger ferries going in the opposite direction—Fajardo to Vieques (arriving at Isabel Segunda township on the island)—leave at 9am daily, 1pm and 4:30pm Monday through Friday, and 3pm and 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. The cargo ferry only runs Monday through Friday and costs more than $4 depending on the size of your vehicle. I recommend that if you do not have a 4wd, which we did not, to just take the passenger ferry and either rent a jeep-type vehicle or use taxis while on the island. This is because many places on Vieques are only accessible on small dirt roads, which you may not be able to navigate with a non-4wd. Also, rental car companies tend to be very picky about what type of roads your car is driven on. However, if you do plan on taking a car across to the island, the cargo ferry runs from Vieques-Fajardo at 6am, 1:30pm, and 6:30pm, and runs from Fajardo-Vieques at 3:30am, 9am, and 4pm. Close
This entry is a continuation of Kayaking the Bioluminescent Bay.As can be seen from my rather dark photo of the entrance to Mosquito Bay, darkness was very much falling as the guide described the formation of the bay to us. Soon, she pointed us in…Read More
This entry is a continuation of Kayaking the Bioluminescent Bay.As can be seen from my rather dark photo of the entrance to Mosquito Bay, darkness was very much falling as the guide described the formation of the bay to us. Soon, she pointed us in another direction, telling us that this was where a buoy was that we could moor our kayaks on while swimming in the bay. Excited about the prospect of getting out of the kayaks and into the water, we quickly paddled off.Once we had all been tied to the buoy, the guide told us more facts as we waited for the bay to begin lighting up. Unfortunately, not many of us paid attention, as we were wholly immersed in sticking our paddles into the water and seeing whether the water around them lit up. We were really like a pack of three-year-olds playing peekaboo with the plankton. At first, we were disappointed when nothing happened at all, but slowly, we began to see one, two, three little sparkles as we splashed around. The guide kept trying to get our attention, and I felt very bad for not fully listening to her. I did catch one interesting factoid—apparently, Mosquito Bay is one of the brightest bio bays in the world because it has a concentration of over 500,000 dinoflagellates per litre, whereas the next best bio bay in Puerto Rico only has a concentration of about 80,000 plankton per litre. That is quite a difference!The guide also told us about the dangers that pollution—both light and chemical—has for Mosquito Bay. Tours are only allowed on kayaks or in electric boats, but some companies illegally run their tours in motorboats. DO NOT take a tour on a motorboat, because you are contributing to the demise of the bio bay by adding unneeded pollutants. People swimming in the bay should not put on sunscreen beforehand—especially since it is not really needed, the tour being at night and all—and insect repellent should be avoided as well. If you really feel the need to wear insect repellent, make sure there is absolutely no DEET in it. We had a special herbal repellent bought from an organic store. Light pollution is also a worry from the number of lights in the area surrounding the bay. There are still very few, but the lights are apparently increasing.Finally, the guide either ran out of facts or tired of us blatantly turning to each other whispering, “Look! Look! The water is glowing!” By this point, the water turned decidedly green when we splashed or did anything else to suitably agitate the dinos. As soon as she told us we could get out of the kayak, we all attempted to at once. And what a difference when we did jump in! As I hopped in, the water all around me lit up in individual sparkles. It was not an all-over green as I had expected, but I could nearly see each individual dino lighting up at me, telling me “Why can’t you just go away and let me sleep?”Once everyone was in the water, I spent a few minutes trying to get pictures of the phenomenon. Unfortunately, not a single one came out—everything turned out pitch black. I did get a few very amusing videos, though, of everyone squealing “I’m sparkling! I’m sparkling!” I soon gave up on the pictures and just enjoyed the experience.Our favourite pastime was quickly pulling our hands out of the water and watching the individual plankton flickering and going out. It really did give our hands the illusion of sparkling in a neon green colour. If we could bounce high enough out of the water, our entire torso and lifejacket seemed to do the same. When someone swam towards you, even if you couldn’t see their face above water, you could see the phosphorescent trail they left behind them. It really was an out-of-this-world experience.Adding to the glow beneath us was the glow in the sky. Looking up at the stars, we could see the entire band of the Milky Way stretching across the centre of the sky. Orion was clearly visible, but so was the Orion Nebula, which I can never see at home. We found the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia and any other constellations that people could remember from elementary school. Even in rural Australia, I didn’t see this many stars, and it was hard to know whether the gaze at them or splash up more dinos. It was a pity we couldn’t see both of them at once!After what seemed like an inordinately short amount of time, we were told to get back into our kayaks. Apparently we spent at least fifteen minutes squealing like little children and the guide’s ears had just had enough (either that or she had another tour waiting to be taken out!). The back person had to get in first, so I did my best to get in as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite work out as I’d planned. Since I could not reach the bottom of the bay, I had nothing to push myself onto the kayak with and had to instead rely on my arms to pull myself up. I showed everyone how little weight-lifting I’d done lately when I only managed to pull myself halfway onto the boat, leaving me face-down, rear-up, and grabbing onto the kayak for dear life. I could not move for the life of me and soon found myself to be quite stuck. Everyone, including me, found this absolutely hilarious. The uproar of laughter only made the situation worse because I lost whatever strength I did have in my arms!Finally, Emily and who knows who else pushed me and I finally managed to get my whole body into the kayak. I was still lying face down, but soon managed to turn myself right way up before collapsing in laughter again when I heard that Cristina’s father had nearly capsized his kayak, trying to help Tiffany into hers, while Cristina’s mother held on for dear life!Once we were safely in our kayaks and ready to paddle again, the guide untied us, put a light on the back of the front kayak, and told us to follow it. The light seemed awful dim though, and nearly disappeared quite a few times. It didn’t help that we were all fascinated by the trails the kayaks left behind them and the streaks that fish left as they raced past our boat. Somehow all of us managed to find our way into the little cove that we had launched from, and our bioluminescent experience was over. As soon as we got out of our kayaks, all of us were planning our next trip to Vieques and its fairy-dust-sprinkled bioluminescent bay.For an hour and a half in the water, we paid $25 each plus $10 each for the driver that took us to and from Mosquito Bay. The tour company we went with was Vieques Tours, which can be reached at 939-630-1267. Close
Even though we had something exciting planned for every day of our short sojourn to Puerto Rico, kayaking the bioluminescent bay was the activity we were most excited about. Visiting the old Spanish forts of Old San Juan and admiring the Flaming Lady in Ponce’s…Read More
Even though we had something exciting planned for every day of our short sojourn to Puerto Rico, kayaking the bioluminescent bay was the activity we were most excited about. Visiting the old Spanish forts of Old San Juan and admiring the Flaming Lady in Ponce’s Art Museum were both exciting, but what could beat jumping into a bay and watching it turn from midnight blue to glowing green in a span of seconds?Since we were such a large group (there were fourteen of us), we had our tour booked long before we arrived on Vieques. All we had to do when we arrived on the island was tell Vieques Tours where to pick us up from—which happened to be Sun Bay, one of Vieques’ Caribbean beaches (which I have reviewed in another entry) that was very close to the bioluminescent bay. Vieques Tours then sent their own driver in a van—which conveniently seated fifteen people—right at 5:30.To access Mosquito Bay, we had to travel down a dirt road that left the main road very close to Sun Bay. Driving on dirt roads in a fifteen-person van at the best of times isn’t the easiest of tasks, but this was complicated by the fact that the local department of transport had arrived the week before and dumped giant piles of dirt to fill the potholes that pockmarked the roads…and then never quite got around to filling the holes in. It made driving down the road somewhat like doing the slalom, minus the downhill slope. The driver had to bob and weave between each pile, often hitting the potholes instead. We certainly would have done much better in a motorcycle or sports car, although it would have been interesting to see all of us fit on/in either of those!When we finally reached the curve in the road where three trailers of kayaks were parked, we unloaded from the van and were told to wait for the other group of people on our trip, whom the driver was now off to pick up. We spent quite a while waiting around, to the point that we wondered if we were actually going to have a tour at all. Fortunately, this did give us time to perform "camera surgery," as Cristina’s dad called it. My camera’s underwater case’s waterproof seal had stretched and had rendered my case no longer waterproof, so Emily, Veena, and I spent a surprising amount of time trying to twist and knot it so it made the case just waterproof enough to get bioluminescent pictures. The sun was slowly sinking behind the small hills of Vieques when tour guides and the rest of the group arrived.After being fitted out with our own paddles and lifejackets, we grouped ourselves into twos and began loading ourselves into double-person kayaks. Emily and I were the second kayak on the water, so we spent a little bit of time trying to learn how to paddle in unison—but we spent most of the time attempting to stay out of the masses of mangroves lining the shore. More than once, we found ourselves frantically paddling backwards in an attempt to not get mired in their roots only to run into another kayak instead!Once everyone was on the water, the guide gave us a few instructions and then pointed where we should go. All of us took off at quite different paces and angles. My friends Veena and Tiffany quickly earned the title of "borrachas" (meaning "drunks") because they couldn’t paddle in a straight line for the life of them. One minute, they would be paddling next to us; the next minute, they would be at a perfect 90 degree angle to us and cause us to swerve to avoid a collision! Later, many people made fun of Emily and me because of our paddling method—namely, chanting "left! Right! Left! LEFT! LEFT! LEFT!" Clearly, we weren’t very good at paddling in straight lines either—mainly because both of us had much stronger right arms than left arms—but at least we consistently strayed in the wrong direction, rather than wandering around in zig-zags!The guide was obviously sadistic, because she had pointed clear to the other side of the bay. We were struggling by halfway and cursing the heavy paddles in our hands. Somehow, we all managed to make it to the other side of the bay, to a point where we could see the entrance into the bay from the Caribbean Sea beyond. The guide then began to explain why this entrance was so important to the formation of the bioluminescent bay.According to her, a great many factors have to converge for a bioluminescent bay to form. First of all, red mangroves are a must. No bioluminescent bays exist that are not lined in the mangrove, which has an especially strong root that grows into the bay and stays firm. Along with providing the essential vitamin B12 for the plankton, these roots also help the land around the bay stand strong in the face of hurricanes, making the bay a favourite for fishermen to moor their boats in during bad storms. They may find their boat on top of another when they return, but at least it would be safe within the bay! The plankton that light up within the bioluminescent bay are actually dinoflagellates, which exhibit both animal and plant-like behaviour. One of their main plant-like behaviours is performing photosynthesis during the daylight hours. Many people believe that the dinoflagellates light up during the day but the human eye just can’t see them; however, this is not the case. The plankton are actually replenishing by photosynthesizing the sunlight. This allows them to light up as soon as it begins to get dark. It is not known exactly why the dinoflagellates light up like they do, but it is thought that they do this as a defense mechanism to scare away predators.The entrance mentioned earlier is S-shaped. Since it is narrow and has this curve to it, it allows less flux out of the bay—therefore concentrating both the dinos and their needed nutrients within the bay itself. It seems like having no channel at all would create the best concentrated mixture, but it is important for the bay to be connected to the ocean to moderate the temperature. Along with all of these features, the bay has a higher concentration of salt than the outside ocean because it has a high evaporation and low condensation rate, which leaves the salt but decreases the amount of water.This entry is continued in Kayaking the Bioluminescent Bay, pt. 2. Close
In Puerto Rico, an island 100 miles by 35 miles large, one never has to go very far to find a beach. In Vieques, a tiny island off Puerto Rico’s east coast, one has to go a fraction of distances on "the mainland" to find…Read More
In Puerto Rico, an island 100 miles by 35 miles large, one never has to go very far to find a beach. In Vieques, a tiny island off Puerto Rico’s east coast, one has to go a fraction of distances on "the mainland" to find wide swaths of sand and glittering sea. Essentially, the beach is right on everyone’s doorstep here, and it would be a shame to miss it.After what seemed to be the longest meal ever (reviewed in my Richard’s Café entry), we finally got on our way to the beach around mid-afternoon. Since we had taken the passenger ferry across, we had to rely on the few taxis on the island to get us around, and fortunately, one of them was a van that fit all fourteen of us. The driver, who got a lot of repeat business from us in our day on the island, was very friendly (from what I could tell with my measly high school Spanish skills) and knew exactly where to take us that would be convenient to our kayaking tour that evening. Thus, we ended up at Sun Bay.We knew we weren’t at your normal beach when we had to walk across a horse paddock to access it. With only a bit of extra mierda on our flip-flops, we found the beach, It was a virtually deserted crescent of sand that somewhat steeply descended into the Caribbean surf. The sea looked relatively calm until it hit the slope, where it suddenly morphed into a tendrily finger of Davy Jones, rushing towards us and doubling in size before pounding into the sand and taking anything not strongly anchored back to his locker. Being a bit wobbly on my sprained ankles, I figured I preferred my friends’ to Davy Jones’ company and thus made it only about ankle-deep into the water before heading for drier land.Most of my friends felt the same way, preferring the landlubberly pastime of sandcastle-building. Everybody busied themselves digging moats and building walls. There wasn’t really a set plan for it, which is why it ended up winding in spirals, although this had the convenient effect of reinforcing the castle’s defenses against the waves that were creeping ever closer.At one point, Cristina said something that sounded remarkably like it was out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so I replied with "yes, peasant." Unfortunately, everyone took that to mean I thought I was the queen and that they were building the castle for me. Totally oblivious, I began to work on my wing of the moat as they plotted to overthrow their tyrant of a monarch. When I unwittingly put myself in the perfect position for being overthrown—on my hands and knees, totally concentrating on digging a large hole, I suddenly felt all of my limbs lift off the ground and heard screaming all around me. With at least one friend holding each of my limbs, they ran downhill and chucked me into the surf. As I pulled my soaked self out of the shallow water, they laughingly informed me that "THAT was for calling us PEASANTS!"After a little more building, it was mutually decided that the castle was done and that it was time to test it, since the first waves were already lapping at the outer walls. After a wave breached the outer wall, there was a rush to make sure the inner wall did not suffer the same fate. Soon, coconut shells held the walls in place.Many of my friends then wandered down the beach towards some rock pools, but I stayed put on my patch of sand, resting my aching ankle and writing in my journal. I didn’t mind too much though, because it was an amazing setting to just sit and relax. The palms just behind me rustled in a slight wind as the waves in front of me crashed one by one into the sloped shore. It was an absolutely beautiful day and life was good. My friends soon returned and immediately began the trek in the opposite direction to wash off all the sand in the only shower for the beach, located next to the horses’ field. We then did our best to avoid the mierda as we headed back towards the parking lot to wait excitedly for our ride to the bioluminescent bay. Close
Written by n8han on 03 Jan, 2005
I would advise anyone who's old enough (rental agencies in San Juan, like everywhere else, ban or surcharge drivers younger than 25) to rent a car in Puerto Rico. The island is small enough that you can get almost anywhere in a few hours, and…Read More
I would advise anyone who's old enough (rental agencies in San Juan, like everywhere else, ban or surcharge drivers younger than 25) to rent a car in Puerto Rico. The island is small enough that you can get almost anywhere in a few hours, and the road quality and signs are bound to give you déjà vu if you're American. They are in Spanish, of course, but you can probably guess what the red octagonal signs mean even if you don't know pare.
Shop around for your San Juan rental and expect to pay about the same as you would for a reservation in a small U.S. city. None of the agencies at the airport seemed to be particularly close, so take your pick.
While most road signs are large, clear, and familiar-looking, many tourist destinations are entirely unmarked. (We heard some speculation that this involves collusion with taxis and tour companies.) If possible, find a good road map indicating tourist destinations before your trip. The one provided to us by Hertz was not of much use; a map given to us by American Airlines was, counter-intuitively, far superior.
Driving on the island was similar to driving in Florida or any other state, with some exceptions:
This trip was a surprise birthday present for my boyfriend Leland. We'd been frustrated with our plans to travel to the French island Guadeloupe by infrequent and expensive flights that didn't fit our schedule or budget. After plotting dozens of ways to get from San…Read More
This trip was a surprise birthday present for my boyfriend Leland. We'd been frustrated with our plans to travel to the French island Guadeloupe by infrequent and expensive flights that didn't fit our schedule or budget. After plotting dozens of ways to get from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, all of them portentous of travel disaster, I thought, "Why not just stop at San Juan, since it's so easy and cheap to get to?" I have a friend from the island who would be there the weekend before the birthday—things just fell into place. Two days later, the secret plans were made. Two weeks later, we were on a plane.
I had reasoned that with only three days on the island, we would be wise to stay around San Juan. I knew nothing of the island and figured that renting a car would be at least as much of a task as in Europe. (And I doubted the existence of a rail line!) So I booked three nights in a cheap Old San Juan hotel I had found on IgoUgo. The hotel, we discovered on our arrival Friday night, was rather disgusting (more later!), and my Puerto Rican friend booked a room elsewhere for her Saturday evening arrival. She also reserved a rental car for a bit of Sunday driving.
After a few minutes in the car, which we learned had cost about the same as a rental in Tampa (for example), we realized that our plans to remain in San Juan only were a mistake. While the city has some historical neighborhoods, it doesn't have the European (or shall I say un-American?) charm we were expecting. And compared to the natural beauty of the surrounding island, San Juan feels downright drab. Finally, though the nearby mountains reassure you that you haven't landed in Tampa by mistake, the roads and freeways are almost perfect copies of those in the U.S. If you're 25 or older and can drive, there's little reason not to rent a car.
We added my name to the car rental and cancelled our remaining nights at the dumpy hotel. Liberated, we embarked on a trip first to the rain forest, then the beach, and eventually circled the whole island. The beaches, which are gorgeous, are practically deserted in winter months. Don't worry, though; it's plenty warm enough (80ºF on our trip) to sunbathe and swim.
Culturally, things continued to feel pretty American wherever we went. Spanish? Sure, just like the Bronx. With a few exceptions, most people we came across spoke to us in good English or bad English, and ignored our attempts at Spanish. Lest we sound too naive, I should say that we've visited Madrid, Barcelona, and San Sebastian (all in Spain) and spoken nothing but Spanish there. But unless your Spanish is tip-top (and, ideally, you look it), don't expect too much practice time on this island.
When we flew out Monday evening, we felt like we'd been in Puerto Rico for much longer than three days. We saw lots, spent little, and got a mild sunburn. If you're looking for a three-day winter escape and you live near a big East Coast city, book a flight (and a car) for San Juan.
Written by Ishtar on 10 Dec, 2001
The Marriott has done some interesting things in this lobby which are not found in its other locations; the first is the gambling Casino, as it needs to keep up with the Joneses. There you have a mini-rendition of let us empty your pockets slot…Read More
The Marriott has done some interesting things in this lobby which are not found in its other locations; the first is the gambling Casino, as it needs to keep up with the Joneses. There you have a mini-rendition of let us empty your pockets slot machines. I never even went near them as there was always something better to do. To the right of the casino is a well placed Lobby Bar. There is ample seating which is positioned around the bar which is the focal point of the lobby. Supporting that placement looking straight ahead from the door is a dance floor with seating, and band instruments which come alive every evening around 7 PM. The Marriott is one of 3 hotels in Condado that offer live music, and Chuck and I took a spin around the floor and tired before the band did.
On weekend nights, many of the locals come for the band, the bar and to "hook up". They tend to overdress here in San Juan as in most Latin American countries I’ve visited. I also wondered if they use more durable thread here to keep their seams from exploding: the tighter, the better. The band plays soft jazz, latin tunes, and lots of slow dancing airs. At times, it gets so crowded that you can’t breathe on the dance floor. The bar is always active, even early in the morning. People are friendly, and men usually stare intently. Enormous arrangements of bird of paradise flowers grace the entrance to the lobby. In addition, the staff was busy decorating for Christmas, and on our return stay to the hotel, we found some incredible talent by way of edible houses made of cookies, sugared mini wheats which served as roof tiles (ingenious!), cakes, icing,-totally fantastic.
There is a W. H. Smith on the premises which you should patronize only in dire emergency as the prices are outrageous. Imagine paying $10 for the New York Times??
They’re good to have around for emergency items, however, there is a Walgreen’s less than a block away. I found the local paper, the San Juan Star , to provide excellent coverage of world news. I later found out that they were the recipient of a Pulitzer; well deserved indeed. Across from the gift shop is the tour desk which was offering excursions to almost all the places we were intent on seeing on our own. The only thing I regret is not having been able to go to Vieques or Culebra island for a day. There are ferries which depart from Fajardo on the northeast tip of Puerto Rico and return at 4pm.
And then there is the concierge service; they come in handy but you can also browse at an enormous album that sits on the counter and gives you suggestions on activities, places to dine etc. They are all bi-lingual so if you don’t speak the language, no problem.
Written by Ishtar on 13 Dec, 2001
We decided to catch the city bus to OSJ which costs $0.25 per person. That's 50 cents for both of us as opposed to $12.00 (quite a savings). On the way to town, we are the only tourists on the bus. Chuck gets an attack…Read More
We decided to catch the city bus to OSJ which costs $0.25 per person. That's 50 cents for both of us as opposed to $12.00 (quite a savings). On the way to town, we are the only tourists on the bus. Chuck gets an attack of the hungers, so we need to find a cafe as soon as we get to the terminal; to make matters worse it is now 92 degrees. The Hard Rock Cafe was the first place we found, and in we went.
We went to the area where " La Negra" was supposed to appear at 1:00pm, and she wasn't there. They were casually setting up the stage so we boarded one of the free trolleys which take you around the OSJ area. One is the "Central" , and has a fairly short run before it gets back to where it came from. The other is labeled "Norte" and goes as far as the parking lot of El Morro and back to town. It also touches upon more museums and galleries on the outer periphery of OSJ. As we boarded the Central trolley, I circled the areas I wanted to revisit again.
Below are some of the highlights of the foot tour:
Fashion Garments, Inc.
310 Fortaleza Street
OSJ - 787-723-3005
Bob Vaswani is an importer/wholesaler of designer clothing from Jakarta and Thailand. One of a kind pieces, very avant garde and elegant. Spoke with him, and did purchase an outfit which spoke to me as soon as I walked in. He and his wife travel to Southeast Asia quite a bit, and he told us to hurry up and go to Thailand. He couldn't stop singing its praises. He talked about the difficulties of importing from Jakarta now because of the problems Americans were having there after 9/11. LADIES!, if you are in Old San Juan, go to this shop. No joke. A lot of shopkeepers here hail from India.
Haitian Gallery Arts & Crafts
206 Fortaleza Street
This gallery is loaded with incredible talent. The wood sculpture is by far the very best on the island; we saw two toned wood statues that were heart stopping, and small to large wooden chests with relief carving on their lids such as calla lilies. They had low tables with similar motif which should be covered with glass. Also masks, paintings, large and small of familiar Haitian scenes of natives, farms, and fruits. Expect high prices but the pieces are well worth it. Two locations on Fortaleza street; the other is at # 367.
This one is one a corner and affords the largest space.
We then heard some fairly loud reggae music down the street, and I never did get the name of the place, but you can't miss it. The walls are filled with Bob Marley posters. The guy incharge could be his son. He was playing a CD for a couple that were buying; he said he's trying to initiate people into other reggae sounds that include spanish and english compositions. He was very friendly, and we were rocking to the music. Prices comparable to mainland, at about $18 for international CD's. He's got a wonderful assortment of latin reggae.
We stopped in a local restaurant to grab a bite; the whole place was filled with sleds, santa clauses, red velvet ribbons. We sat at the counter and ordered guava filled pastries and limeades. It gave us the energy to continue walking.
We then happened on the Convento Hotel and this needs a separate journal. Nothing short of amazing.
There is quite a bit of non-native art in OSJ; i.e. 3 Peruvian art galleries on the same street; one of them is listed below:
237 San Francisco Street
OSJ 787-725-5754, next to La Bombonera Restaurant
There are a high number of souvenir shops and you identify them by the T-shirts or saris which are hung on the doors; an inordinate amount of Indonesian crafts can also be found in the old town's specialty gift shops.
208 Cristo Street
Boveda is right next door to Atmospheres and typifies the upscale, hip boutique with exclusive lines of designer, one of a kind clothing pieces, aromatic soaps, jewelry (as soon as you walk in, you are greeted by a large jeweler's case). There are also paper luminaries, pillows, etc.. they have an email address at hotmail but no web presence.
Right about this time, we decided to call it an evening, and get some dinner. With our usual luck, we enjoyed the King and I .
Written by Ishtar on 12 Dec, 2001
No matter how many times I come here, there are always new discoveries. On Saturday night, we wanted to go to OSJ for dinner and possibly some dancing. The concierge advised that everything was basically closed, and that there was only one restaurant which…Read More
No matter how many times I come here, there are always new discoveries. On Saturday night, we wanted to go to OSJ for dinner and possibly some dancing. The concierge advised that everything was basically closed, and that there was only one restaurant which offered a show with dinner called La Sala . So, we take a cab and $12 later, we are in front of the restaurant. They're not open yet nor are they serving, we need to come back later. So Chuck and I decide to browse the streets, as we spotted some open shops. In a corner souvenir shop, both of us pick up sunhats which subsequently save us from the infernal heat. Then I spot Haitian paintings into the next store, and this is a must if you're in the area:
The African Shop
253 Calle San Justo
The store had glaring 50% off most of the merchandise signs in red; can't miss that color! A huge inventory of African clothing, wooden masks, musical instruments, butterfly collections Z(big on this island), jewelry, antiques, african art, haitian art, some rasta hats.
We ask permission to take photos and the young woman who works there begins to talk with us and wants her boss, who is deep in conversation, to allow us to take shots of the store. The owner looks like the guy who used to do the Kola Nut commercial for 7 UP; remember that deep, labyrinth-like voice? Well, his clone is here, alive and well. After he realizes our intentions are honest, Chuck goes clicking around while I look at the paintings in the back that are so very colorful, always depicting Haitian life.
Then Mr. Owner requests a picture by himself, as he doesn't like the impromptu one taken by Chuck with him discussing business with some tourists. So we obliged. All kidding aside, if you are serious about African Art, you can find some terrific values in here, with the proviso that this 50% off sign is permanent.
We continue our walk, and as we head toward the pier, we see a magnificent cruise ship portside and start to plan the next, next vacation immediately. It's not terribly crowded this evening, and strolling around the old city is unhurried and the breeze is merciful.
We are now hungry, after talking about cruises and how much weight you put on aboard, we find a great restaurant inside the arcade next to the Wyndham called la Isla Bonita . After dinner, we head toward the tourism office which is open! In we go and start taking one of everything; additionally, some artisans are displaying their wares around the building and some of the sidewalks adjacent to it. They are almost all tipicos of Puerto Rico artisanship and Chuck buys me a wonderful leather key chain with my initial on it. A old man is begging for money with lackluster results.
. We head back towards the Wyndham, and go in to find out what the rates are at this time, and are quoted $145 for a standard room. They, too, have a casino on the premises. Outside the hotel, there is an outside café area where a live entertainer is singing and swinging. We stop to listen and sway to the beat of the band. She ends her show with Santana's Oye Como Va .There couldn't be a better finale as I am dancing on the sidewalk.
We hail a cab back to hotel; our driver is delighted to tell us all about Bayamon where he lives with his family and loves it. He recommends that we go there to get a flavor of the real Puerto Rico. Will we ever find the time to follow all the recommendations we are getting. Back at the hotel, the lobby is very crowded, dancers crowd the floor in front of the band. We make our way to La Vista , the hotel's poolside restaurant to have tea and Chuck orders a passion fruit/guava smoothie . Ocean air is fresh and not too many people are dining now. Our feet begin to ask for mercy, so back to room 614 in anticipation of a new day.