In the end of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. I moved to the USA recently, so it’s never been part of my tradition. Traveling, however, is a part of my tradition! When the weather gets cold and rainy, what can be better than going on mini-vacations in the Caribbean? Anyone? Instead of spending five days in the rainy New England, I decided to visit Puerto Rico (from Spanish, Rich Port). Curious how it’s been? Join my adventure and let’s go back in time!
Right after midnight, my flight departed from Boston to San Juan. Although it was before Thanksgiving, the airport was pretty empty at that time. The TSA folks were nice and smiling (for the first time?). They seemed to really like my clockwork necklace. After a four-hour flight, we arrived to San Juan. As I left the airport, I saw lots of palm trees so I couldn’t help myself and had to share pictures with some of my international friends.
Early morning, the air was very humid and the wind was mild. It was very pleasant to be outside. Right away, I started walking towards the bus stop. My first hostel emailed to me a map with precise directions on how to get to the hostel. They recommend taking a bus. It turned out, however, that during holidays busses don’t serve the airport. Cab was my best bet and 20 minutes later we made it to the hostel.
It was some time around 6am. I was hungry. I was walking around and looking for food. The area itself (Hipodromo) wasn’t very pretty. In fact, it was a working class district with many abandoned buildings. I thought to myself that it’s really great. How else can you get the taste of local adventure?
When I finally found a restaurant, everyone was asking:
Waitresses: Guy, what are you doing here? This is not a tourist area.
Me: I realized that. I’m not a tourist, though. I’m an adventurer :-)
I asked for a sandwich. They eat a lot of pork in Puerto Rico, so I asked for a mega-portion of pork meat, vegetables, and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Not a bad start of the day.
It took me several hours to explore the area. I visited the local market, Walmart, cultural venues, and found a post office. Hipodromo, an area of San Juan, is rich in cool murals. Just take a look at them. They are beautiful and creative.
Walking with a backpack wasn’t very convenient. I went to the hostel to leave my stuff and to see what cool people are staying there. Guess what? I met three Polish people: two sisters and one traveler. The sisters came from New York City. The traveler guy took some time off in his life and was traveling around the Caribbean for three months. It was good to see these folks, but papa lives a fast life. It was time to move on and to explore the old town.
I like walking. Instead of taking the bus, I was wandering for two hours before I made it to the old town. First, I passed by the beach with fantastic palm trees. I crossed a long modern bridge and turned left instead of going straight. I ended up in a pretty nice port area.
After exploring the port area, I went back (in time) and headed toward the old town; going along the coast line. I got to a well-maintained area with a christmas tree (how cool is it to have a christmas tree in the Caribbean???). The area was full of people and acrobatic activities.
I forgot that Puerto Rico is in a different time zone than Boston. It got darker earlier than I expected. When I arrived in the old town, it was already night. Interestingly, they use lights of a very warm color there.
The midnight after the Thanksgiving day is a very special one. It is the beginning of Black Friday, a day full of crazy deals. The tradition is that folks go to stores to buy cheap TVs, clothes, screwdrivers, etc. It sometimes happens that people are aggressive and fight. I really wanted to see that happening this year. Unfortunately, the crowds in San Juan were very calm and there wasn’t much action. Unlike somewhere in Texas:
Not so early in the morning, I went to the old town to see how it looks like by day. Friday was completely different from the previous day. Streets were lively and crowded. The weather wasn’t great. Apparently, it rains a lot in San Juan. The weather is very changeable. It may rain multiple times during the day and yet it may be also sunny. The old town is fairly compact and features a few interesting spots, such as the Governor’s house, Haitian cultural shop, and dozens of restaurants. Culture is definitely one of the stronger points of Puerto Rico.
San Juan is famous for its 16th century Hispanic fortifications. One of the fortresses, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, is located by the shore. It is surrounded by a large field of grass. On the west side, you can see a cemetery and a chapell. It was the first cemetery, that I’ve seen, located on the sea shore. Perhaps, you guys can bury me there when I die.
The whole Puerto Rican adventure started, in fact, over a year ago. Do you remember how Gzowski Club went to Europe for Eurocup? Our last stop was Lisbon. After a crazy pub-crawl night we met Kiki and Jon. It turned out that they are from Puerto Rico. I promised that I would visit them some day… and that day has come. Kiki came to San Juan and she was being a fantastic tour-guide (after I learned everything about San Juan :-)). I’m really grateful that she found the time to hang out and to educate about the island.
We were walking around and catching up with the news from each other. We went to several shops, I commented on cats being very small and cute and Puerto Rico, and finally went to get a dinner. I relied on Kiki, since she knows what the truly local food is. We were supposed to wait only 7 minutes. It was a pretty long wait; more like 47 minutes. As for food, I remember some local delicacies, such as mofongo, churrasco, pasteles, and pina colada. I’m a big boy, but it was more food than I could take.
Once the dinner was over, we agreed that we need more action. Kiki got ready, papa got ready, we got coquito (a sweet coconut beverage), and we were on our way to a salsa party. In the club we met Kiki’s new international friends from Germany and some other girls who were visiting Puerto Rico. The night was a good time to practice salsa and to experience local nightlife.
I had never been to a rain forest. Visiting one was my priority when visiting Puerto Rico. Kiki picked up the German girls and papa, and we all went to El Yunque – the rain forest. The day was super-rainy, even according to the locals. Our first stop was around a stand with coconuts, food, and souvenirs.
The rain forest was very green and was full of palm trees. Noticeably, the leaves of plants were very firm, almost plastic. We took a trail to see some remarkable waterfalls. The trail wasn’t very long, yet some of the views were very unique: hills, valleys with palm trees, wild river, and sounds of birds.
On our way back the radio was playing latino hits. Most notably, Bailando Por Ahi by Juan Magan, Ai Se Eu Te Pego by Michel Telo, and Tacata by Tacabro. If there is one thing to remember from this blog post, it’s mueve tu culito, tacata!
It was raining all the way from the rain forest to San Juan. Finally, we made it to my new hostel where I met very cool fellow travelers from the US. A couple of hours later, Kiki joined us after she fixed her hair. We all went to a party in the old town. Pitbull, salsa, bachata, and reggaeton. You name it, we did it. It doesn’t get any better than this. Kiki had a little surprise: coquito made with pitorro – a glocally made rum. Delectable and comfortably strong. Enough to say that the night was long and we took a break around 5am. That was also the time when Christian went straight from the party to the airport. How COOL is that? A party plane to Haiti, anyone?
The day started pretty late. We went on a tour to the famous Bacardi distillery. Getting to the distillery takes a while. First, you take a boat from San Juan, and then a cab. We made it to the last tour that day. The nice thing about the distillery is that they give you coupons for free Bacardi drinks. Guess what happened? We got our drinks and forgot about the tour. It started without us.
Having realized that, we asked them to give us a ride to catch up with the rest of the group. Fortunately, it was not a big deal and we were dropped off at the distillery. The guide was talking about a long history, pirates, showed a movie, showed the equipment, historical materials, different types of rum, and we got a lesson of mixology. Cool tour! The tour finished with more free drinks.
Traditionally, I woke up late. Sadly, it was my last day in Puerto Rico. My flight was scheduled at 7pm so I had the whole day to appreciate palm trees in San Juan. I sent some postcards and went to the areas that I hadn’t explored earlier.
It was a sunny and beautiful day. It later turned out that my flight was delayed. The pilots didn’t show up the airport (due to a party?).
The whole trip was only 5 days, but we’re here for a good time, not for a long time. Puerto Rico is a nice place with warm and smiling people. Everyone looks into your eyes and smiles. Nobody seemed to be afraid of strangers. Cosa buena. I’m grateful for all the people who contributed to the trip. In particular, thanks to Kiki!