Mrs. L.A. decided we would go on vacation, and she chose Puerto Rico. She rented a studio apartment on the 22nd floor of a building in Condado, across from the beach. Nice view, and nice ocean breeze.
I arose about 0300 the Saturday after Thanksgiving to get ready, allowing Mrs. L.A. a little more sleep. We left the house at 0530 to get to Seattle for our 0830 flight. It was a full day of flying, and we got to the condo around midnight, Puerto Rico time (four hours ahead of here). It was hot, waiting for a cab to get to Condado. I was drenched by the time we made it through the line. Fortunately, the apartment’s a/c cooled things down quickly once we turned it on.
Sunday we headed by cab down to Castillo San Cristóbal. It was nice to be in the place we see so often on TV. We started toward Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and saw an iguana munching on a lawn. We didn’t go to the fort that day, but went Monday instead.
Walking from Castillo del Morro in search of a cab to get back to Condado, we passed Ostra Cosa @ Totem restaurant. I pointed out the tank of Caribbean spiny lobsters. Mrs. L.A. suggested we eat one. We picked out one that was about 2 kg or so, and had it broiled. Oh, man… It’s been three decades since I’ve had spiny lobster. It’s much better than the Main lobsters we get out here. (We live on the Left Coast. Why doesn’t anyone have Pacific spiny lobsters?) Mrs. L.A. thought she didn’t care for lobster. She thought it was because she’d never had a good one. (I suspect her experiences had been with Red Lobster, or someplace like that.) She loved it.
We took a drive out to Utuado (we had a rental car by this time) in search of some awesome coffee. The plantation is only opened Saturdays, and Mrs. L.A. didn’t bother to call ahead. It’s not easy to get to. My phone got me to Utuado, but the plantation was farther on and I wasn’t getting a signal on my phone. I asked directions three or four times, I think. The road is very curvy, and seems barely bigger than our rural residential street. And it seems you just need to know where Hacienda Horizonte is, if you want to go there. We found it eventually, closed, as I expected. We went on to a place that does a tour of the plantation. It had been raining, so hiking would not be good. The other option was a horseback tour. I asked Mrs. L.A. which she’d like to do. I could tell she was a bit pissed off and tired, so we ended up doing neither, and went back to San Juan.
OK, I snore a bit. One reason Mrs. L.A. was tired and pissed off was because I was keeping her from sleeping. Wednesday I was informed, ‘I’m not sleeping with you tonight. You figure it out.’ Well, after being yelled at the night before for snoring too many times, I’d already tried sleeping on the balcony. Hard floor. That’s not going to work. Obviously, the floor within the room wouldn’t work either. The couch was a couple of feet too short for me. So I ‘figured it out’. I got a room at the Best Western down the block. Wrong move. But what did she expect? Anyway, we made up the next day, and the Best Western room was very nice – almost twice as big as the condo, and cheap because of the weekday rate.
Next on the agenda was a tour of the Bacardi distillery. We opted for the $49 Rum Tasting Tour. I guess nobody else wanted to spend that much, as our tour comprised me, Mrs. L.A., and the tour guide. While we were waiting for tour time, we received a couple of complimentary Bacardi glasses (plastic) and a drink token. The tour included a tram ride to the visitor’s center (?), where we watched a short video on the history of Bacardi, and then a walk to the distillery proper. More history, displays, and… twenty 50,000 gallon vats of fermenting molasses. Finally we came to a large tasting-room. With two places set for us. We each had five small samples of rum, ranging from Superior (the cheap one-year-old stuff), to the $170/bottle rum sold exclusively in their gift shop. My favourite – more than the exclusive one – was the Gran Reserva Limitada. I’ll have to see if I can find it here.
We were told Piñones was a good place to experience ‘the real Puerto Rico’. We ended up driving through it. Oh, well. We’ll just have to make another trip. We continued around the northeastern tip of the island. We didn’t go to the rain forest (El Yunque), but we drove around it. Luquillo, Fajardo, Humacao, and then back to San Juan. Mrs. L.A. was too turned the driving over to me near Humacao. I really would have liked to spend the day in Piñones.
Thursday or Friday we had to go back to Ostra Cosa for more lobster. Mrs. L.A. chose a 3.5 kg lobster from the tank. The waiter asked if we’d be sharing it. Mrs. L.A. gave an incredulous, ‘No. I’m eating this one myself.’ I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. So I started looking for a lobster to eat. There was this guy sitting at the end of the bar, next to the tank. Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, I took him for a ‘regular’. He started asking us questions about how we were going to have the lobster, how hungry were we, and so on. Turns out it was the owner. He suggested the wife and I split the lobster she’d picked out; only instead of having it just broiled, he suggested getting it stuffed. We took his suggestion. In the empty cavity of the broiled lobster’s thorax were shrimps, scallops, white fish (I’m guessing sole), and squid rings, in a white sauce, and each half of the lobster was topped with a cooked oyster on the half-shell with the same sauce. The sides were smashed potatoes (baked potatoes smashed on a plate, covered with Swiss cheese, and drizzled with mayo and catsup) and fried sweet plantains. The owner gave us a complimentary ramekin of some of the best ceviche I’ve ever had. I had one drink, and Mrs. L.A. had two. Total, including tip, came to $171. Mrs. L.A. paid for it.
Of course there were a couple of shopping days, stopping for sangrias, stopping for empanadas, etc. Sunday morning it was time to come home. Again, we spent all day flying. The plane left the gate around 0830 PR time, and we got home to northern Washington (after a two-hour drive) around 1900. Monday morning we awoke to snow.
Hot (mid-80s) and humid (70%). I was definitely perspiring. But I’ve been in worse, and I could get used to it.
Beautiful. I liked the bamboo forests around Utuado, and the rainforest we drove around in the northeast.
Those lobsters were fantastic. Other than those, I found the food a bit bland. Every place that had breakfast offered ham (sandwich slices) and eggs, sausage and eggs, bacon and eggs, pancakes… Typical American fare, and not as good as Denny’s. But cheap. They also offered various sandwiches (ham and cheese being ‘authentic’.) A chorizo empanada I had one day was tasty, but nothing special. A crêpe place at the bottom of our building basically made omelettes for their breakfast offerings, wrapped in crêpes. These were not crêpes I’m used to, soft and rolled into an enchilada shape. These were folded into triangles and were pretty rigid. And the only hot sauce they offered was Cholula, which is a sauce, but definitely not hot. Chicharrón de pollo sounds delicious. Who doesn’t like (pork) chicharróns? Turns out they’re just fried chicken wings with a ‘Caribbean dipping sauce’. Mofongo is a famous Puerto Rican dish. Fried plantains, mashed, shaped into a bowl, fried again, and filled with meat sounds like a good thing. And the ones we had weren’t bad. But they were a little on the dry side. I suspect we just went to the wrong restaurant. I noticed that mayonnaise mixed with catsup is a popular dipping sauce in Puerto Rico. They even sell it in bottles. Overall, the food was OK. The lobsters were very worth the price. But ‘everyday eating’ was bland.
Can be treacherous. There was a lot of traffic on Ashford, where our apartment was. In Viejo San Juan… Well, the cobblestone roads are very narrow, and very rutted. There, and elsewhere we drove, there were plentiful potholes big enough to bury a cat. In Old San Juan we saw a car that had been sideswiped, and I said, ‘Must be a local.’ We saw a woman holding her right-hand side-view mirror, which had been knocked off, trying to figure out how to put it back on or what to do. Some parts of town are like a free-for-all. On the freeways, people drive too slowly. They seem to have no concept of the ‘fast lane’. In the left-most lane, doing 20 mph below the speed limit? Yep. There were a lot of collisions. We saw four on our trip around the NE tip of the island, and I’m sure only one of those was caused by the blinding downpour near the rainforest. Driving in general wasn’t too bad, but the narrow roads in some places such as Old San Juan and in Utuado aren’t fun. Tolls on the highways are reasonable. The total for both of our road trips came to $7.
It was a good trip. Sunshine, breeze, just being someplace different… I even got a tan. Puerto Rico is a beautiful place, and I could get used to it. But I might have to do my own cooking.