Puerto Rico 2021
Posted on 12/23/2021 in misc
Days in Puerto Rico - 7
Days it rained - 7
Number of “scheduled” events we had planned - 5
Number of events canceled due to COVID - 3
Impact all the above had on our fun - none at all.
Our flight to Puerto Rico (via Orlando) on the 11th was uneventful. We had to show proof of full vaccination to get out of the airport in San Juan. Our AirBnB was advertised as “10 steps from the beach” and she wasn’t exaggerating at all, as you can see in the below photo. We are standing at the gate to the apartment complex. We were also walking distance from 50+ bars and restaurants. Feel free to hit me up if you are headed to San Juan and want the AirBnB that we stayed at. Our host was wonderful, the apartment was fine, and the location can’t be beat.
We made it to the AirBnB late afternoon, so after a quick trip to a nearby Walgreens for beer, soda, and snacks, we had time for about an hour of beach before getting dinner. Dinner the first night was at La Cueva Del Mar, which is a place we ate at on our last trip. It was good to see some places we recognized from our 2019 trip made it through the pandemic. We had to show proof of vaccination to get into the restaurant. Dinner was fabulous, as expected. After dinner, we walked about a mile to the grocery store to stock up on provisions, then took an Uber back to the apartment. It was an early night as we had been up since 5 AM our time. Also, I spent about $161 on Uber for the week, so the decision to skip the rental car was a good one.
Sunday the 12th was mostly a kickback at the beach day. It rained every day, so every beach day was a series of trips back to the apartment to wait out a 15-minute downpour, then return to the sand. I got pretty good at reading the weather. When we felt the wind shift from the north we had about 2 minutes, which was just enough time to pack up and get back to the apartment.
There was a boutique hotel with a bar next door, so when I got up, I walked next door to get a coffee. I paid 8 bucks for a Café Americano, which was the only time I spent any money at that place. There was a coffee shop a couple of blocks the other direction, where I paid $3 for my Americano every day the rest of the week. After lounging all day on the beach, we went into Coronado for dinner as we had an activity planned there too. Dinner was at Orozco, an unassuming looking place that had fabulous food and good prices. I had the pernil and arroz con gandujales, which was noticeably better than the pernil I make at home. After dinner, we had salsa dancing lessons planned, where we learned Michelle is completely incapable of letting me lead on the dance floor. Two leads don’t work doing salsa, or any other dance that I know of. So after struggling to look decent doing salsa for an hour, we probably aren’t any better at it than when we started.
On the walk from dinner to the lessons we passed an Irish pub - green building, big shamrock painted on the concrete, the works. Well, I certainly can’t not visit an Irish pub now, can I?
I should have not visited. From the ultra modern decor, to the complete lack of a bartender anywhere to be found, to the 2 guys smoking a hookah at a table, to the general lack of a welcoming feeling in the place, to the X-rated rap music at high volume, it was the least Irish pub I’d ever been in. With no bartenders in sight, I couldn’t even order a beer, so we just left and went home.
Monday the 13th was also a beach day. In the AM, I went to the surf shop down the street in search of beach chairs. They are out of stock, as is every other retail joint in the area. I asked our host if she had any ideas, and she produced two chairs from her storage area that we could have for the week. Monday is everything is closed day in Puerto Rico day, so we went back to La Cuerva del Mar for dinner as Michelle wanted the fish tacos I had on Saturday. All was fine until we asked for our check at around 8:45 and the waiter told us the computers were down, and he’d have to handwrite it up. I told him no rush and ordered another beer. One of his other tables was a party of 14 with separate checks, and the waiter was clearly new at the gig. An hour later, I got my check. The cool thing was nobody in the restaurant was cranky about the delay. In the US, some asshole would have pulled out his gun after 15 min and demanded his check or just walked out. Here everybody relaxed. It’s Puerto Rico, the power goes down, stuff crashes and doesn’t work. You deal with it and move on.
Speaking of power, we didn’t experience any power outages, although the lights did flicker on occasion. The roads seem to be in worse shape than I remember from previous trips, though. Some sidewalks on our street were completely unusable. I’d guess about 20-25% of the commercial buildings in the Ocean Park neighborhood are boarded up. I’m guessing they were damaged beyond repair in Hurricane Maria and need somebody to invest in demolition and a complete rebuild. But there are signs of growth. Every restaurant we were in was reasonably busy, and there were some places in the midst of renovation. 1/4th of every block being boarded up may sound like a “bad” neighborhood, but I never felt unsafe, and never have in my 3 stays in the neighborhood. Most places don’t have the extremely picky zoning laws we do in the US, so you can have million dollar homes literally ½ a block from boarded up retail buildings and loud dive bars. That’s really the charm of the neighborhood, in my opinion. It’s not all bland chain stores segregated from cookie cutter housing.
On Tuesday the 14th we did one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I booked a two-hour history tour of San Juan led by an architectural historian who renovates historical buildings in town. So the tour was 2 hours of history as explained by the architecture of the buildings in old San Juan, and holy shit did I learn a lot. Seriously, it was one of the most interesting tours I’ve ever taken. After that we hung out in Old San Juan, wandering in and out of shops, and had a Piña colada at Barrichina, where the drink was first created back in the 60s. The drink was just as good as you’re thinking it was. The grouper fritters we ordered as a snack were so good we decided we’d come back for dinner. Around 530 PM we decided to grab a drink at a random bar we were standing in front of, then head back to the Piña colada place for dinner. They gave us a sample mushroom risotto at the bar, and it was so good that we changed plans and stayed for dinner. Dinner was good, but we were in the tourist district, so it was ⅓ more than it would have been a few miles east near our AirBnB.
That morning there was a large protest by the police union, related to low pay and the gouging of their pensions after the country went bankrupt. Both our tour guide and another native Puerto Rican in the group were sympathetic to their issues, but annoyed, as I guess protests are a common occurrence, and they don’t really change anything. Having worked in DC for years, I understand the feeling. Also, Tuesday is the day the cruise ships unleash their hordes on Old San Juan, and the protest being on Tuesday morning was absolutely not a coincidence.
Wednesday was another beach day with a planned sunset sail that looked questionable based on the weather forecast. The sail was canceled but not due to weather. One of the crew tested positive for COVID and since this country takes the virus seriously that means they are shut down until they can confirm the rest of the crew is negative. We dodged 4 different downpours over the course of the day as we did a whole lotta nothing but sit on the beach and read, broken up by running for the apt when the downpours rolled through. We mixed it up for dinner and had a fabulous Italian dinner, followed by some time at a taproom 5 min from the apartment that featured 38 taps, 18 local and the rest imports. It was weird seeing Bell's and Harpoon on the import list. I had an IPA-Brut that was good, and a dark mild ale that was fabulous. They also have fantastic Sangria on tap, made locally and is apparently the first draft sangria in the world
Thursday already? Today's plans were a beach day and a baseball game in the Roberto Clemente Puerto Rico baseball league. Checking the team's Twitter feed in the AM dashed those plans as the team was shut down for three days due to a positive COVID test. So we did the beach for 90 minutes - retreat to the apartment to avoid a downpour for 15 minutes - then back to the beach thing all day. During one of the breaks Michelle engaged in some retail therapy at a high end surf shop near the apt.
One thing we noticed everywhere around San Juan was the high level of service in retail and restaurants. This surf shop was not busy but had at least 5 employees working, everyone of which offered to help us. In a US mall, that shop has 2 people working. Same thing in restaurants. Plenty of waiters and staff. A Starbucks we hit for an afternoon caffeine jolt had 4 people working. Dinner was at a local place and was our only less than fabulous meal of the trip. 6 out of 7 isn't bad. Thursday night we returned to El Tap for beer and sangria. On Wednesday we had been the only people there for a while. It was busier on Thursday and the bartender recognized us and waved us in knowing we were vaccinated.
Bacardi called to cancel our tour due to operational issues, which I take to mean a positive COVID test. So we beached in the AM and headed into Old San Juan in the late afternoon. On the beach there was a local with a cute, well trailed pug. I noticed the dog never passed a woman on the beach. The dog would run up to the woman, forcing the guy to come over to retrieve the dog. If the woman didn’t bend over and pet the dog, it got up on his hind legs to beg until he got attention. While this was going on, the guy was positioned perfectly to get a cleavage shot as the woman bent over. Michelle was a victim too. Still haven't decided just how creepy that was. He seemed harmless, retrieved his dog, said hello, and went on his way. We hit the Piña Colada place in Old Town for another drink and stayed for dinner. Then we hit Carly's Bistro for the best mojito on or off the island. While there, the bar back told Michelle she has a very bright aura, so she has that going for her. She still left with me, though. We finished up the evening back at El Tap for craft beers and sangria.
Saturday was go-home today. The flight to Orlando was uneventful. In the Orlando airport, we were quickly jolted back to reality by “Angry Americans” not wearing masks in the airport, and trying to bully their way past the hostess at On the Border. The people of Puerto Rico > people here in the US, and it’s not even close. In three weeks in Puerto Rico, on both the east and west coasts, the people we have interacted with, whether service industry workers, locals next to us at a bar, or random strangers in the street, have been nothing but pleasant and friendly.
I'm already planning our return next December, back to the West Coast with some time in Ponce, maybe.