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.
Written by Ishtar on 15 Dec, 2001
Ashford Avenue is a ritzy address in the heart of the Condado area of San Juan. It is here that you'll find luxury hotels & casinos, high priced apartment buildings, elegant restaurants, and upscale shops. When the sun goes down, the lights go up all…Read More
Ashford Avenue is a ritzy address in the heart of the Condado area of San Juan. It is here that you'll find luxury hotels & casinos, high priced apartment buildings, elegant restaurants, and upscale shops. When the sun goes down, the lights go up all along the avenue, and taking a leisurely stroll can be very pleasurable. It does not have the charm of Old San Juan, nor the crooked, blue cobblestoned streets. It is a thoroughly modern avenue, and were it not for the occasional signs in Spanish, you could be on Main Street, USA.
Luckily for us, our address was on Ashford for 6 days, and we strolled it in both directions, by sunlight and moonlight. We also went as far west as we could until the neighborhood really started to deteriorate; we turned around and it was then that we found
La Patisserie de France . About a block east of the hotel, is a Walgreen's Drugstore which was a lifesaver for me. Actually, it is a much bigger deal down here than back home. It is located at:
1130 Ashford Avenue
After a brief survey, I have concluded that prices are approximately 20% higher than on the mainland, and there is more emphasis on beauty products and more brands for the modern woman who lives here. In addition to filling prescriptions, they have a mini-market, gifts, beach accessories, some computer supplies, toys, office supplies, frozen foods, snacks. This is where we repeatedly bought bottled water as the tap water in SJ leaves a lot to be desired. Also picked up some diskettes from my sony digital, emergency polish remover, cotton balls, juice, and munchies. They also do one hour photo and have an ATM on the premises.
A few feet away is a beauty salon that really taught me the meaning of an Ashford Avenue address. I walked in as I had wanted a fresh manicure and pedicure. The shop was completely empty except for the man behind the desk. I first asked about the pedicure and was dumbfounded when he replied $40.00! So I asked the same question in Spanish to ensure that I had made myself understood, and the answer came right back at $40.00. So I dared to ask if there was any special treatment that came with the pedicure like massage, paraffin, what not. Well, no, just regular pedicure. I made a U turn, and rejoined Chuck on the sidewalk.
The identical scenario, or somewhat similar took place at a predominantly male clothing store (a few token dresses), where silk shirts were upward of $120. They had signs in the window advertising pants for $20.00, and as long as we stayed at the Marriott, we never were able to see anyone shopping there.
So, we cross the street, and find a condom shop and we always find these to be great fun, so in we go. There is one thing that you will see here that just does not go over too well on the mainland, and those are huge bathing towels with bare breasted women on them. They are also prominently displayed in souvenir shops as well. It's refreshing to see such openness; but it does go hand in hand with the cat and mouse game that Latins play between the sexes. Well stocked in sex toys, games, gags, and flavored liquids.
As we continue our walk, I notice a very charming, small parador that used to be the consulate office for Spain. Info below:
Hotel El Consulado
1110 Ashford Avenue
We go inside to inquire about the rates and look at the rooms. It smells really clean and a young woman shows us 2 different rooms: one with balcony and one without. Both looked very comfortable and streamlined. The facilities are air conditioned, and the manager quotes us $85/night with complimentary continental breakfast. It is good to remember these folks, as they are part of the very first chain of Puerto Rican hotels designated as IHPPR. They have other locations near the beaches, and you can check out their website at www.ihppr.com.You're in the heart of Condado, so if you don't mind being away from an ocean view, I certainly wouldn't mind staying here.
This was the day we went to rent our car at Avis who are also located on the Avenue. We also caught the bus here, # B21 which takes you right into Old San Juan for $0.25. As a footnote, I'd like to say that drivers here are extremely courteous and do yield the right of way to pedestrians.
We did Ashford in the other direction the night we went to dinner at Stone Crab Alley . The Avenue was really dressed up in lights including the restaurant, and after the meal, we walked and saw a few other restaurants, Italian, Mexican, and see posh shops, one of them is Oggetti which I've been dying to go into, and is having some sort of private tasting in one of their rooms. There are also expensive and elegant clothing stores.
We also go by El Canario hotels is on Ashford, and we did go in to get some information. They have 3 locations, and the Canario by the Sea is around the corner from the Marriott facing the beach. The street is a dead end, and has served us well for parking our little Echo. We end the stroll by going into a local grocery store which is a couple of blocks from the hotel.
Written by Ishtar on 16 Dec, 2001
Today was the day to visit the northeastern part of Puerto Rico. We were going to do the Yunque Rainforest, Luquillo Beach and Fajardo and decided we'd come back a different route to see something interesting. To get there, if you are coming…Read More
Today was the day to visit the northeastern part of Puerto Rico. We were going to do the Yunque Rainforest, Luquillo Beach and Fajardo and decided we'd come back a different route to see something interesting.
To get there, if you are coming from the Condado area, head east towards Old San Juan. Traffic will not be great no matter what time you go, so have patience, as it gets better. Highway 26 is about 2 blocks from the hotel, so for us it was fairly simple. Follow the signs to Fajardo - drivers here are courteous most times and observe the speed limit - I didn't see too many weavers. Highway 26 becomes Route 3 which is fine, as you will stay on there; it's a limited access highway, so you will have to contend with stop lights, but there's lots of stuff to see along the way.
We passed Plaza La Carolina Mall and the Carolina Shopping Court . Then there was a huge semi-circular stadium on the road, a municipal court house and a Lilly Drug manufacturing plant. Drug Manufacture is Puerto Rico's principal export, to our surprise. Then comes another huge strip mall with Kmart, Home Depot and all the stuff you can think of. Mountains in the background are the only "anomaly". The weather will change drastically as you get closer to el Yunque . We also passed by the Belz Outlets , which is advertised everywhere as it is fairly new. It's around Cavanovas . The neighborhood starts to deteriorate at this point, although it remains fairly clean. Houses turns to shacks. A sign indicates that the Rio Grande Plantation Eco Resort is here, so note that the National Forest is coming up and as Route 191 sneaks up on you, so stay alert, as it will take you to el Yunque.
Luquillo Beach is a stone’s throw from the Forest, and we went into the Park area which precedes the beach. As it was a week day, the grounds and beach were fairly deserted. We were not terribly prepared for the beach, as we had no towels, no change of clothing, no bathing suits. What is most striking about Luquillo is the cleanliness of the huge park, and of the beach itself. All of the beach eateries were closed except for one souvenir shop that remained opened. There were less than five bathers as the weather was quite fickle, but the expanse of sea, sky and sand was intoxicating. There was one woman sunbathing and reading; a family with 2 children where I found anchor and threw down whatever I had brought along. Chuck was already in the water; I made a bold move and removed my tee shirt and decided to go into the water with my bra and shorts! The water was amazingly warm with shreds of algae floating by with the tides. Imagine having Luquillo Beach almost to yourself? The sun was really not hot enough to dry my clothing, so I had to improvise a bit.
We are now making our way to Fajardo which is a lovely little resort town at the tip of Puerto Rico's northeast coast. We never find the beach, instead, we get out to see the town square where men are busy putting together Christmas decorations. There is a promenade with some apparel shops and shoe stores. I spent quite a bit of time in the women's shop as they had the type of dresses I love to wear, long and flowing with spaghetti straps. Chuck had already toured the rest of the shopping area in the meantime. Back in the car, we are trying to find a restaurant to have a bite. This will not happen until we reach Humacao which is south of Fajardo actually. In our desire to find the shore, we hit on the Marina which is incredible. There are so many boats here that they are parked 3 high; there is a hotel on the premises. But no vehicles can go past that point so we turn around. We are on Route 53 and making our way to Humacao which is a major city, around all small and poor villages. The mountains are truly majestic around them. We go through the towns of Ceiba and Naguabo , and somewhere between those two, we hit a dead end at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Reservation Golf which is for military personnel only. Dinner at Chili's is quite welcome and tasty. Chuck goes for the beef sirloin fajitas and I have a hamburger. After dinner, we go into Sam's Club because Chuck wants to check out their prices. It’s no big deal really although it's quite large and the locals here apparently like to shop. We are asking people at the door for directions and we get 3 different versions. Night is falling and this will be our first solo ride in the evening in Puerto Rico. It turns out to be quite rapid and efficient; the roads, signs are well maintained and if you are alert, you will not miss your exits. We actually get back on Route 53 which will dump us on 30 west which you take all the way up and back to San Juan. Speed limit varies between 60 & 55, and when you get closer to Bayamon, you'll get a 4 lane highway instead of 2. A long day, indeed.
Written by Jose Kevo on 29 Sep, 2004
Well-rehearsed images are always enticingly the same: Sitting on the left, at an "A"-window seat of an American Airlines jet; beyond needing verbal queues from flight crew or feel of the plane's descent. Heart and mind racing with anticipation serve as the built-in…Read More
Well-rehearsed images are always enticingly the same: Sitting on the left, at an "A"-window seat of an American Airlines jet; beyond needing verbal queues from flight crew or feel of the plane's descent. Heart and mind racing with anticipation serve as the built-in compass, confirmed by Atlantic white-caps becoming more distinguishable. Tease of peering through the window is almost unbearable until finally glimpsing "the enchanted one".These treasured visions have became an incurable obsession in progress. They never tire or fade, but conveniently keep luring me back for re-embellishments - enough time to rendezvous with what's obviously become manic fixation that I'm not sure how long I could survive without.When heading from the States and debarking the plane, it's as if eternally waiting for that initial perfumed scent, or first warm embrace ... natural Viagra for the soul. I'm still enamored from that first chance encounter, but it's taken all 10 years of this ongoing tryst for rendering myself hopelessly enthralled; willing to wallow uncontrollably in questionable spoils of infidelities until one of us ceases to exist.Scattered Seeds...Call it a Latin ThingAs a first-time visitor, it would've been shameful not to have paid proper respects through a brief, introductory acquainting with elders held in highest esteem. Tearing myself away from the beach scene involved more obligation than I cared for, but some things in life need to be done regardless of motivation.I found her waiting almost as if she'd been expecting me. Perhaps nothing special beyond daily routine for anyone else seeking to pay homage, but inviting just the same. Seizing initial hospitality was hesitant thanks to my own agenda. I'm sure half-hearted company was nothing unfamiliar when it comes to the aged.Going through the motions of showing interest in past significance was poorly disguised. However, when life has been rich and full for those with seasoned understanding, they need muster no special effort for bridging generational gaps. Whether appreciated or ignored, it's all the same.Shame of actions didn't fully reveal until later, combing through photos and realizing how much had been taken for granted. Thankfully, a camera had preserved the grandeur, which a forced presence had chosen to reject. Enlargements eventually hanging around only begged to have details filled in.An extended weekend back in Isla Verde was just that and nothing more. But after a second reappearance with fellow New Yorkers claiming to love Puerto Rico based on nothing more than tourist traps masquerading as beach resorts, I could no longer justify shortcomings. Pleading my case, there were no curious takers leaving confines for anything beyond.Determined not to settle for labeling myself a resort tourist, returning with a rental car seemed only way to soothe the magnetic affection that had been tempting me forward. I gorged myself with those initial tastes of island life; reluctant to tear myself from the spread with final days waiting back in San Juan. After checking into my Condado hotel, there was a hunger still waiting to be fed.It was late afternoon when parking along the stately northern passageway. Crossing street, a convincing leap placed me atop the fortress wall with a commanding presence typical of a macho-driven society. Demure vistas were mine for the taking without indecision while blazing an unknown path that would become my defining ingredient. And then, I stepped out of the shadows.There she was, still waiting as if knowing I'd be back. The brujas de Santeria must have caste a spell melting to the core of my being; dumb-struck and totally exposed from gaze of presence radiating in stages of sunset. There were no more obligatory pleasantries or formalities. The veil had came off as if in desperation to keep from loosing me a second time. Later, after some swoon-struck first-time experience, I declared my eternal devotion and moved in the next day.Back in New York, friends weren't overly interested in what could've possibly transpired beyond resort walls. Sneering was only appropriate when invited back for another timeshare on Isla Verde. Besides, a steamy summer reencounter had already been devised.By now the leash had come off, living only 3- half hours away, but Old San Juan had developed as my ideal version of domestic; the perfect kind of package to come home to on a routine basis. And no matter how far I strayed, loyalty and faithfulness always remained true in my heart. When it came to flirting with distant relatives, the ugly firstborn sister next door; the motherland and family roots beyond, there was still only one I cared to be with.The Mistress ScornedI'll never forget the arriving flight while looking out over shapely figure sprawled before me. It was no secret how badly I wanted to retrieve bags, cancel connecting flight, and sneak in for an extended massage of libido. But I kept going; willing to settle for my first layover quickie on the way home, except plans got rerouted through Santo Domingo only detouring guilt of actual cheating.There's no denying something drastically changed. Like anyone consumed with inner-struggles, avoiding confrontation was typical first line of defense. Coyly playing things off wasn't fooling anyone but myself; especially after those first few overnight layovers trying to fake old delusions. The art of distractions can be a bittersweet weapon; especially if used once too often.Succumbing to whatever had reignited the itch, a surprise late appearance for our five-year commemoration was in order.Thinking I could prowl back for a three-night stay like nothing happened was not transpiring. Landing in hot water is one thing. Dealing with constant tears and howling wrath quite the other. Pacing around while fully exposed sanctioned hollow rejection...returning lock myself in the room, playing chicken. Forewarnings about false sense of calm in the eye of the storm was all the allusions needed. No sense making a bad situation worse, and I caught the first flight available; dodging collision until things blew over.Time was my only consoling partner until deciding to test fate and slip back for "a night". There was no second guessing what had to be done, but who was I kidding? Crawling back every inch of the way would be worth ending separation. My charge was still connected; mere presence erasing any need for words. A blazing sunset rendered a submissive truce; unspoken secrecy that can make or break a man's character.Desiring Temptation - The Gratified ScenarioI lie motionless in the bed as not to wake a soul. The drowsy clack of the overhead fan serves as orchestrated soundtrack for the night. Smoke can be seen hanging in the distant air with the glow of every inhale; a red light patiently clicks away numbers...the digital alarm clock not set to go off for at least another hour.A renewed sense of spirit never quite blooms with eclipsing guilt; shameless but hampering just the same. Contemplative silence embraces the darkness, and I figure there's no sense prolonging the inevitable with bridled anticipation. After quietly gathering my things, I firmly grasp the door in hopes of muffling the squeak that would signal my slipping out. There's no mystery, I'll eventually be back.The city is sleeping comfortably with balcony doors flung open for wooing the predawn breeze; the lack of noise a rare luxury. For having such a lighter feeling about myself, there's always a counter-balance for suddenly how heavy bags weigh me down as I pass along abandoned Calle Fortaleza. Sometimes the cabbies don't even ask. They just know.Almost as if in respect to the silence of nocturnal magic, car stereos usually are not even turned on, giving perfect opportunity to begin processing the latest discretions into titillations. Contrition never has a chance against the all but twisted satisfaction; likely no different than marauding pirates of yore. But when is a little of something ever enough? Especially when it seems so forbidden? So far I've restrained never giving in to the taunting self-deceptions by asking the driver to turn the car around.Crossing bridges over the lagoon transports illusion back to actuality. Twinkling of the distant Condado strip is an image burned deeply into my mind that I frequently lose myself in; rows of beachfront hotels lit-up in the darkness with hints of a new day just beyond. I suppose significance is harbored in parting sadness and the whole I can't believe I went off and did this again conflict. What's done is done.The puddle-jumper whizzes down the runway towards the rising sun before sharply clipping over Isla Verde beach in a 180˚o turn that fully shifts everything westward and back towards internal purposeful perspective.Distance of separation grows ever so slightly but not before allowing one last look; tempting as ever, seductively laid back like a siren by the sea. At this point, call it mutual understanding and one last harmless flirtation, however futile. She knows; I've found another. Close
Often on a tight schedule and even tighter budget, food is usually the least of my priorities while opting to sate an appetite of a different kind. I'm a faithful patron to some, but there's also always a new find on the blocks that…Read More
Often on a tight schedule and even tighter budget, food is usually the least of my priorities while opting to sate an appetite of a different kind. I'm a faithful patron to some, but there's also always a new find on the blocks that manages to catch and satisfy my attention. Here's a few of my favorites, all conveniently located near the guesthouses:BreakfastCoffee dominates my Breakfast of Champions with a large costing $.89 at the Burger King on the corner of Tanca and San Francisco. There's a nice morning-shaded plaza across the street to enjoy while waking up! Fast-food joints litter the Old City with familiar fair and slightly cheaper prices.However, this last adventure, I found San Juan has finally caught up with the Starbuck's craze, and there's a new one just off the southwestern corner of Plaza de Colón heading south. Their pastry case is loaded with sweetbreads, muffins, and specialties featuring tamarind, guava, and other tropical pastes; a large coffee costing $1.80, great for enjoying outside at one of the umbrella-shaded tables while watching the city come to life.Tío Danny's, at 313 Fortaleza, has been a long-time favorite that is full of surprises since it's always undergone another change for keeping up with competition. If they still happen to be serving breakfast, a plate of eggs, potatoes, and choice of meat with bread and coffee is never more than $4. I've also had some exceptional local cuisine for lunch within the same price range, but the bonus is dining in the center courtyard of the colonial-styled historical building; something you'd never expect from the street. As of the summer of 2003, they convert into an upscale seafood house of an evening well beyond my price range.A couple of other favorite stand-bys are Cafeteria Mallorca at 300 Calle de San Francisco and La Bombanera just down the block and across the street at 259 San Francisco. Both offer standard, sit-down breakfasts for under $5. Their window fronts are loaded with fresh-baked items, both serve lunch, and La Bombanera stays open late for dinner with nothing on the menu costing over $15. The latter is worth passing through just to see this old-time diner and fountain counter operating "as is and as has been" historically for almost a century.LunchI stumbled across a new find during my last extended visit that's rather obscure but worth tracking down. Café Celeste is tucked away at 197 Callejón de la Capilla; a small alley that runs between San Francisco and Fortaleza. Initially I was drawn to the music and large crowd in the passageway of a late night...long after the food was gone. It's definitely a local hot spot without the frills, beers costing $1.50.For dining, they only serve lunch beginning around 10am and going until all the food for the day has been devoured. There's a new menu posted out front daily featuring 6 Creole favorites, such as stewed shredded beef in salsa, fried chicken, pork roast, pepper steak, and codfish just to name a few. Everything is packaged and ready for take-out, including large portions of rice and beans, salad, and non-alcoholic beverage of choice for $5.The space is very limited and crowded inside with compact walls lined with stand-up counters for eating on the run. Outside in the alley, there are a few shaded patio tables and chairs great for confirming you've found a memorable place. Aside from barely being able to finish what adequately suffices as the meal for the day, local life parades by to the beat of whatever Latin music is pulsing inside. Call it the final indicator of success, but I was surprised at the number of local business people in suits which made a quick appearance before returning to the office with a haul. I highly recommend this place.DinnerThe last meal of the day has always been somewhat of a challenge, and why I like to load-up on a late lunch regardless of afternoon heat factor. All the local-based places have closed, leaving a huge dining void with choices limited to posh, upscale-priced restaurants or fast-food; all their availabilities inconsistent based on whether cruise ships are in port.On the ground level next to the guesthouse on Tanca is a standard, Asian-run Chinese food take-out restaurant with lots of seating and the typical menu read around the world. They've tried recreating a few of the local dishes with rice, but stick with what they know - sweet and sour chicken or pork, veggie medley in garlic sauce, etc., for under $6, not including drink. It's something, if not convenient, and I find myself here more than I care to remember. Meals are made to order; obvious by the long wait if there's any type of business for the night.I don't patronize fast-food establishments at home and cringe at the thought of doing so here. But there's a pair of local chains serving up something different to spare you from McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC and the likes.Flamer's is on the corner of Tanca and Tetuah, and La Meson Grill is swallowed next door to Wendy's at the northwest corner across from Plaza de Arma. They've a large selection of salads and specialty sandwiches, but it's a pleasant change of pace to have a helping of tostones, boiled yucca, rice and beans, and other local favorites as side dishes. You can leave either of these places stuffed for under $7.Street VendorsWhat's a Latin encounter without swarms of vendors hawking drinks and snacks from make-shift carts? A day-time favorite are paraguas; cups of shaved ice saturated in tropical flavored syrups; better than any snow cone you'll ever have. They offer two sizes and I've never paid more than $2 for a large.Vendors tend to flock to a pair of high-traffic areas. You'll find them on Calle Norzagaray at the corner of the lawn leading up towards El Morro Fortress. This is also where you can purchase kites should you care to test your luck around the wind-swept sprawl. Vendors here are also only out until the sun goes down.The other cluster are always filling the plaza area just off the docks where cruise ship passengers come aground, and are often scattered along the straight-away entry to Paseo de la Princesa promenade. Expect their prices to be higher; especially if purchasing consumables or tourist trinkets from an immigrant vendor.The best experiences here come on evenings when there isn't a ship in port and the local, die-hard entrepreneurs are out like they've been for centuries. Surprisingly, pizza off one of these carts was decent; a large slice of pepperoni and coke for under $5.More than a NightIf planning on being around a couple of days, I head for the Super-Ex Mercado (formerly Pueblo de San Juan supermarket) on Calle Cruz on the eastern side of Plaza de Arma. You'll find a little of everything you would at home, but I challenge you to try the local brands of items rather than U.S./global kinds. You'll be pleased at the differences.Similar snacks and things for the room can also be found at Walgreen's on the northeast corner of Plaza de Arma or at a local drug store chain just across the street. The local version is more interesting, but both are priced higher than at the grocery store. Close
The few uphill blocks on Calle Tanca only escalate the beating of my heart after rushing in and out of the guesthouse to deposit luggage. There's a different type of baggage that always needs unpacking first. Once reaching Calle Norzagaray, what awaits has became my…Read More
The few uphill blocks on Calle Tanca only escalate the beating of my heart after rushing in and out of the guesthouse to deposit luggage. There's a different type of baggage that always needs unpacking first. Once reaching Calle Norzagaray, what awaits has became my defining ceremony of auto-exorcism for wiping the slate clean.
Just to the left of the small park area is a stretch of 9-foot high fortress barriers. Vault yourself up through one of the lowered rampart indentions, climb atop, and head where ever the wall may lead...
La Perla is the haphazardly assembled community just below the walls, but don't let warmth of assorted pastel colored buildings fool you. The streets are narrow and often filled with inhabitants in a crude but luring way. Enjoy views from your elevated observation deck but never accept an invitation to descend for a visit or simply getting a closer look. This intriguing area is one of the most dangerous for the entire island!
When approaching the large Neurobiological Research Center, the wall takes a right for gaining a profile view of La Perla and realizing just how stacked some of the make-shift structures are. Here you'll come across your first Garita (Sentry Box); strategically placed look-outs built into the fortress walls, which have become Puerto Rico's signature icon. There's a steep, walkable incline behind the research building leading towards El Cemeterio San Juan and the expansive Campo del Morro lawn leading up towards the featured fortress.
There's a soul-stirring affect of contrasts through these parts; modern-day life as islanders flock to the massive green sprawl for kite flying, exercising, family time, romance, and about any other excuse for indulgence. To the right is one of the oldest cemeteries on the island, which is filled with a mind-boggling assortment of tombs and shrines honoring those of years gone by whom once undoubtedly enjoyed the same types of leisure on the wall's other side.
By the time you've reached the western edge of the cemetery, winds from the nearby ocean have magnified in an embracing sort of way, all but murmuring the many silenced voices from the past mingled with conversations and laughs from those on the other side. Find a comfortable perch; stop to listen while taking in one of the best scenes from San Juan's northern shore.
The wall begins to climb the hill towards El Morro and I always begin to sense the power and security of presence trekking across their familiar tops in making what has became a pilgrimage. Beyond the northern wall towards the pounding Atlantic, shaded slopes are covered with some of the densest growth of sea grape trees; another good place to stop and reflect in coolness without the sun.
Coming to a small bunker, there's a brief spot where you'll need take to the turf and you'll discover just how steep the natural incline has been that the rampart has spared you. Once you can step back on the wall, you're at the inner courtyard of El Morro where you can explore outer areas.
Usually the fortress is closed by the time I've began my jaunt, but just to the side of the entry walkway are stairs leading into a moat-like area with plush grass; great for sitting against the shaded walls which have been standing almost 500 years. Let their cool gentle firmness massage your back and your mind. There's also an area against the bay that gives some pretty spectacular views of the six levels of citadels as they descend towards the water.
By now, I'm usually near trance-like state rejoining the wall making a beeline for my "If I could be anywhere in the world" spot atop the cliff that perilously plunges towards the bay. About halfway down this segment is a small circular extension; big enough for two people, and where you're likely to find me of an evening if I'm in town.
Others sporadically pass behind; some lingering at times but this is one of those places where it's easy to savor the extended moments all to yourself. The mouth of the harbor is hemmed from tiny Isla de Cabros lined with mesmerizing palm trees dwarfed in the distance so as not to upstage the pending evening event. More hypnotic and therapeutic than the couch in any shrink's office, the stages of sunset melt to the core of my being.
I've had some landmark occurrences here, regardless of how drab and colorless the skies might have been. Thoughts which run through any of our minds on a regular basis are one thing, but I'm always hypnotically amazed at what hidden factors tend to resurface as unknown issues seeking resolutions. Regardless of which point of dusk I've arrived, the sun slipping below the distant horizon is my time piece for knowing when it's appropriate to move on...along the wall and life in general.
Once this portion of wall has ended, you'll need to take to the steep, grassy hill descending towards Casa Rosa; the pink, colonial structure once serving as military barracks. You'll have to step over an unguarded "no entry" cable for remounting the wall. There's a small bulwark where secondary defense cannons once fired, which also has other soul-stirring views over the harbor and distant peninsula. The area seems to be a popular gathering place for evening dog walkers, but if you're like me, they won't be the only transformation encountered.
A care-free, kid-like manner has always been restored by the time I've reached these segments; walking the long, narrow stretches of straight-away as if performing a tight-rope act for those looking up from the malecón below, or finding myself advancing to greater distance-leaps in the v-shaped indentions evenly distributed along the rampart walls.
Random garitas beckon a more inquisitive, youthful approach than their earlier counterparts, and the playful environment is only heightened from the pair of tennis courts and basketball courtyard always teeming with sounds and energy of life. Should you thirst for more, there's a water spicket along the drive though you may have to wait your turn - including for leashed dogs and their masters.
By now, the historic street lamps lining the promenade and beyond walls in the old city have emblazoned an ambiance, ushering in tranquility and romance of another Caribbean night. A variety of bougainvillea, flamboyáns, and other assorted tropical trees and plants overshadow the wall and parts of this final stretch garden. And then, the sweetest music obscurely blends into the sultry, tropical air...the chirping of the coquí frogs found only on this island; the last confirmation I need to indicate I'm exactly where I should be.
The last section of traversable wall ends at a gated entry that is always open and leads to a small courtyard called Plazuela de la Rogativa; the small plaza of the religious procession. There's a rather haunted looking, larger-than-life bronze statue of the bishop of San Juan and three of his parishioners brandishing torches to commemorate the attempted British siege in 1797, and how their desperate, but successful, tactics fooled the troops into immediate retreat, thinking they'd been outnumbered.
By the time I've reached this point, the unknown, unexplainable transfixion I crave has undeniably taken place. It may be the end of my welcome back ritual, but if you're like me, you'll marvel at the new beginnings whether turning uphill on a side street or continuing towards the historical Puerta de San Juan. Then again, there's always an inviting bench to steady yourself until some of the capricious intoxications of regained liberation subside.-- Over time, I have discovered that it is possible to begin outside Fuerte San Cristóbal and walk the city's perimeters to Puerta de San Juan from atop the fortress walls. With each return visit, this is still my favorite thing to do en Viejo San Juan; great for elevated perspectives and astounding Photo Opportunities
Written by lance73 on 20 Jun, 2002
On the South West corner of the Island is Puerto Rico is a cute little village named La Paragua, which I think means water village in Spanglish *(the mix of Spanish and English that the Puerto Ricans speak). Spanglish is not any kind of…Read More
On the South West corner of the Island is Puerto Rico is a cute little village named La Paragua, which I think means water village in Spanglish *(the mix of Spanish and English that the Puerto Ricans speak). Spanglish is not any kind of official language, just what I call the broken Spanish that most Puerto Ricans speak. La Paragua is truly a village; don't think that I'm trying to make the place sound "quaint" by choosing that word. There might be a population of 200, when all the fishermen are on dry land.
There are a couple of things that make this place very special. First, every evening, when all the fishermen return from the hard day at work, the village starts its nightly street party. That's the liberal way to say it, more to the point; it's when all the town folk (*plus a few tourists) gather at one of the three open-air bars for some rum drinks and to talk about the day. Second, this is one of the few places on Earth with a bioluminescent bay - the water actually lights up after dark. A walk on the beach can turn into something much more with just a kick of the water. For a scuba diver this place is beyond words. Charter one of the two dive boats and you're in for a real treat. The wake of the boat turns all the colors, and once you enter the water, each kick of the fins leaves for a safe trail home.
The hotels are very limited in La Paragua, so try Aguadilla (only 20 minutes by car), and make certain to get one with air conditioning. When I was there it was 90 degrees at 8am. Take plenty of sunscreen; the skin really scorches this close to the equator. Enjoy the lazy days, and festive nights!
Written by Pony Boy on 06 Dec, 2005
My girlfriend and I planned a 5-day trip down to explore the island of Puerto Rico. The trip was both relaxing and adventurous. It was a first time for both of us down in the Caribbean, and being from the Twin Cities, it was a…Read More
My girlfriend and I planned a 5-day trip down to explore the island of Puerto Rico. The trip was both relaxing and adventurous. It was a first time for both of us down in the Caribbean, and being from the Twin Cities, it was a great getaway from the early December snow and cold. The first day we flew into San Juan and arrived late evening. In total, the plane ride from Chicago was a little over 4 hours. They are 2 hours ahead. We were staying at the Radisson for the first two nights, so the first night we were going to take things easy for the long day ahead. The taxi from the airport to the hotel ran us about $20 (it seemed to vary by a few dollars each time we went to the airport depending upon the cab, and there are no running meters.) We wandered down Ashland Avenue, which is a heavy tourist area. Many of the restaurants and bars are pretty well kept, and most of the workers spoke pretty good English. The Radisson was very nice, clean, and spacious and had a casino downstairs. We went out for dinner that night at a bar/restaurant down Ashland Avenue called Orozco’s. The food was good and drinks were pretty reasonable. We then headed to the casino at the Radisson, which had slot machines, black jack, Caribbean Stud poker, and roulette, but unfortunately, no craps table.
The next day we took a taxi out to explore Old San Juan, which is an area about 15 minutes east of San Juan. We toured through the old cobblestone streets and saw many interesting things, including the San Juan Cathedral (the burial site of Ponce de Leon), the old and pastel-colored houses, talking parrots, oceanfront views, and numerous street vendors selling shell necklaces and bracelets. We also visited the El Morrow, which was an old Spanish fortress that protected the harbor back in 17th century. The fortress stands 150 feet above sea level, and you can get some fantastic views of the harbor, Old San Juan, and the south Atlantic.
We then took a ferry across the harbor and visited the Bacardi Rum Factory. The tour itself is free, although there is a small fee for the bus to take you there. The rum tour explained the beginnings of Bacardi Rum Factory, its founders, how its made, and drink recipes, and best of all, you get two free rum drinks of your choice at the bar. We then ate dinner at a place called Hacienda Don Jose back in San Juan, about a 15-minute walk from our hotel down Ashland. This place is about 20 feet away from the ocean, and if you get a seat next to the open-air windows, it is a relaxing break away from the sun and heat of the day. I highly suggested the pork and onions with rice and beans, a Puerto Rican dish that is very good.
The next day, we rented a car and decided to drive to the rain forest trails just outside of Fajardo. It took us about an hour to get there, and the roads up the mountain are like something straight out of a movie. Beautiful views of the rainforest and the countryside. There were a total of 10 trails you can venture through. Out of time, we choose only one trail, and it was about a 40-minute walk away from a cascading waterfall that you could swim in. I could have spent all day on those trails, but we had plans to drive across the islands. The paths were not dirt but were more of stone. If it happens to rain, be careful, as they are very slippery. The drive across the island to Camuay was horrible. The traffic back through San Juan and beyond was awful. We left around 1 that afternoon, and it took us a little over 4 hours to drive 100 miles. We were on a highway (which had traffic lights every mile or so), and the drivers are crazy. People don’t seem to obey traffic laws. Some ran red lights, some drive extremely fast in tight spots, and others merge into a 6-foot space between cars at the drop of a hat. GET CAR INSURANCE IF YOU PLAN TO RENT A CAR.
The hotel we were staying at was called the Sea Side Beach Resort in Camuay. If you look at the pictures on the Internet, it looks very inviting. However, buyers beware. Although the place is out in the country (a relaxing break from the chaos of driving) and on a deserted beach, it is not what is portrayed on the Net. It might be different during tourist season, but it wasn’t what we expected; of course, it was only $90 a night, so I guess you get what you pay for. The place is very difficult to find, as you have to drive about 20 minutes down a lane-and-a-half, two-way country road that winds up and down and all around. Cars come whipping down that road at 40mph, and you half to split the lane and half road to get by. We were the only guests that night, so we had the pool and pretty much a deserted beach to ourselves.
The staff was very friendly, and it grew on us pretty quickly when we saw the beach. There is a lot of surf and rocks, so actually, swimming isn’t much of an option. If, however, you decide to go native and run around on the beach or play in the surf in your birthday suite, it can quickly turn into an exciting affair! There isn’t a whole lot of English spoken once you get out to the countryside. The next day, we drove out to Isabel to do some horseback riding. The outfit is called Tropical Trail Rides and is definitely worth the $35. Your horseback ride through numerous trails, forests, and beaches at a leisurely pace. It was about a 2-hour venture.
After that, we finally decided to go to a local beach and hang out. We asked our tour guide (who was very nice, and I think the family is from Texas) on what a good local spot was for lunch and a beach. She suggested a little beach town about 15 minutes away for lunch. I think it was called Belly’s BarSide Grill, and it sits right above the ocean. The town seemed like a surfer town. We passed a couple surf shops on the way and watched people surf on the huge waves while we ate lunch. We then drove a little ways to a public beach, where we laid out on the beach and swam for a few hours until the clouds came in and it started to rain a little bit. The water was like bath water and was relatively calm. We wanted to explore the Camauy caves but ran out of time. Many locals talk about the cave exploring, kayaking, and rock climbing that can be done there. If we go back, that would be first on our list to do.
The next to last day we drove all the way back to the eastern side of the island past Farjardo to do some sailing. We got up pretty early to avoid traffic, and this time it only took us 2 hours to get there. For drivers there are tolls along the freeway. You hit about three of them leaving San Juan and four of them coming in. They are cheaper going out than in, but the most we paid at one toll was $1.25. The sailing place we went through was called East Islands Excursions (http://www.eastwindcats.com/.) I’m going to plug them because that was the highlight of the trip. For $60 per person you go out on a 4-hour sail and have all the free rum drinks you want (yes, I said free), as well as lunch; go to two snorkeling spots, where you can view some coral reefs; and stop at a deserted island to explore the beach or go swimming. The staff was very friendly and funny, and it was a great time.
On the sail you can also see the Virgin Islands and St. Martin off in the distance. I highly suggest this place as a top to-do on your list. That day we dropped off the car and taxied back to our hotel in San Juan. This time we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. The place was reasonably priced but was very small. We ate dinner at a restaurant called Ajili Mojili, which was just off Ashland Avenue. This place is more of a dress-up restaurant with a nice atmosphere. Our waiter (I believe his name was Carlos) had our wine to us literally 20 seconds after we ordered. He was on the ball with everything we ordered, and the service there was great. The halibut and the steak we ordered were excellent!