Puerto Rico – Final Thoughts (and a video)

Travel Tips

Before I dive into my final thoughts I’d like to let my fellow travelers know about a couple of things I ran into on my trip.

  1. I flew Mexico City-Panama City- San Juan on Copa Airlines. When I arrived in PC, I walked to my next gate only to find a mini-security station. These weren’t at every gate and I don’t know why some flights warrant them and some don’t. I had just purchased a bottle of water for the 3.5-hour flight to SJ of which I drank half before tossing the bottle into the bin. If you ever find yourself at the PC airport for a connecting flight, you might want to check your gate first.
  2. When you arrive at San Juan’s airport forget about Uber. You have to use an airport sanctioned taxi to get where you are staying. I had rented a studio apartment fairly close to the airport and my fare was $21 plus tip. Now, going back to the airport you can use Uber. The cost? $7.
  3. Leaving San Juan the ticketing agent told me I had to show proof that I was leaving Mexico because I didn’t have a resident visa, only a tourist stamp. Thinking I had to buy a one-way ticket to somewhere I wondered how much this was going to cost me. Ticket agent to the rescue. He directed me to http://www.gotobus.com where I bought a one-way ticket from Tijuana to San Ysidro, CA. He needed to type in a ticket number for Copa Airlines requirement. Of course I was not going to use it, but it was only $10. I’ve read about this happening to other travelers, but the first time for me.

Travel Thoughts

It took me 10 hours to get from MC to SJ including crossing a couple of time zones. I could have saved a couple of hours by taking an airline that flew a more direct route, stopping in Florida instead of flying all the way down to Panama City. At what time point does saving money not matter so much? Basically, I saved $150 to spend three extra hours in the air. Since I was going to stay in Puerto Rico for two weeks, the extra time didn’t bother me. But, what if my trip were only a week? Does everybody ponder about these decisions?

Food expectations. I overestimate the food quality of every place I visit. I thought all the dishes in Poland would match what my grandmother made. I figured pizza eaten in Italy had to taste better than anywhere else. I’m usually wrong. And disappointed. The lone exception was China.

Puerto Rico experiences

Puerto Rico is a Latin American country so for the first day or so I would begin each encounter I had with Spanish. That changed quickly. I would say “Hola” and the local would reply, “Hi.” For me, being there was a strange mix of the United States and Latin America. Perhaps this changes in the countryside and small, non-touristy towns, but in San Juan 99% of the people I met spoke English. Of course, I was in tourist areas mostly.

One day at the beach two teenage sister were playing paddle ball near me. Speaking to each other they would alternate between Spanish and accent-free English. That was a little weird.

Overall the most interesting people I met were Uber drivers. (I used it a lot.) They give honest opinions, positive and negative, and generally loved to talk if I engaged them. One driver in particular told me it would take 10 years for Puerto Rico to fully recover from the recent hurricanes because of corruption. Now, I’m no fan of America’s lying president, but in this case he wasn’t. Still, the corruption factor was a convenient reason for him not wanting to give Puerto Ricans the money they’ve been allotted when the real reason is they have brown skin. Ok, no more political opinions because this is a travel blog.

I can see why Puerto Rico is popular with Americans. For one thing, because it’s a US territory you don’t have to worry if your 30 or 90 days is up and it’s time to leave. People are friendly. The two beaches I visited were clean, a couple of guys would come around to sell beer and water and the sea water was warm. Still, I won’t return. While I enjoyed myself I didn’t feel an attraction that said ‘man, you have to come back here.’ Also, it’s a big world and I’m not 25. There are many countries I want to see for the first time that repeat visits don’t fit into the schedule.

Let me finish by uploading a one-minute video of some street art near where I stayed.

Thanks for reading. Next big trip will be in October but I hope to blog about a couple of short in-country jaunts before then.

San Juan Food – Part 2

The food scene improved the second week as I found a few places frequented mostly by locals.

The first was Cafetería Quisqueya, a Dominican restaurant where I ate succulent BBQ pork ribs. I also drank a couple of Cuba libres. I had to stop at 2 because as you can see from the photos, the 2nd one had much more rum than the first. I think the waitress liked me a little.

In Old San Juan across the street from Plaza Colón is the San Juan Food Court. It’s really only a bar in front and a cafeteria style restaurant in the rear called Grandma’s Kitchen. I had baked chicken, the tender, fall off the bone kind with a sweet macaroni salad, which seemed to be very popular in Puerto Rico. Tasty and inexpensive.

Then I went on a taco binge. Of course, the tacos in Mexico are better, but the Puerto Rican style wasn’t bad. Just different. And not as delicious. 😉 The first stop was 4Puntos Café. Two fish tacos and sangria.

One afternoon I walked to Plaza Santurce, an area of restaurants and bars that gets quite lively in the evenings, if you know what I mean. 😁 Too lively for me, anyway. I headed for El Coco de Luis. They pour a signature drink of whisky and coco water. Mine was 90% whisky so I didn’t get the proper taste. The highlight of the visit, and perhaps the food highlight of my trip, was their ceviche. Made from grouper fish, this was the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten. Simple and delicious.

The next place disappointed me because it calls itself a Mexican restaurant but doesn’t serve Mexican style tacos. La B de Burro is where I ate a carnitas taco. The meat’s flavor came close to what I’m used to and the cranberry cinnamon margarita (2×1 all day) tasted good, but I question how much alcohol it contained. Not much is my guess.

My final taco destination was a small bar that serves food, Pa’l West. I have no idea what the name means. Here I ordered one spicy crab and two fish tacos, and a gin-based house drink. None were no better than average in my opinion. However, let me say that all three places where I ate tacos are highly rated by the masses on Google Maps. I doubt many of the reviewers live in Mexico.

To find the best local food I’m a firm believer in walking a few blocks beyond where 99% of the tourists draw their “safe line.” That’s how I found the tastiest pernil al horno ever at George’s BBQ. While I was waiting for my food, Alfredo tried to sell me a beach house. He was a really nice guy whose family runs a real estate business.

I’ll finish this post with pastelillos, small empanadas. I ordered codfish, spinach and mozzarella and corned beef. They are great snacks and can be found at Cafe D’Luna.

I will publish one more post, a summary of sorts, about San Juan, travel thoughts and a cool video of a street mural.

More San Juan Sights

After the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico the governor wanted to show that the city of San Juan was recovering. He wanted a positive symbol to illustrate this so he hung the colorful umbrellas on a block in OSJ. I believe the light blue building at the end of the street is the governor’s mansion. On another block near La Plaza del Mercado de Santurce. I discovered more umbrellas, all white. Regarding the hurricanes San Juan is functioning well but I can’t say about the rest of the island. Much work must be needed somewhere because an Uber driver told me it would take 10 years for PR to fully recover.

One day I went shopping at Plaza las Américas, a mall with more than 250 stores. Of all the places to choose from I ended up at J. C. Penney’s. 😁 It was a good choice because I paid $70 for $160 worth of clothes.

Sales tax in PR is outrageous. 11.5%.

Two castles were built to protect San Juan from foreign invaders (French, British, Dutch and Portuguese). The larger of the two is San Cristóbal Castle; the smaller one at the point of the island is San Felipe del Morro Castle. Next to El Morro is a cemetery. Seems odd to put one right on the water’s edge. These photos are of both castles and with a couple of exceptions aren’t too interesting. A castle (I would call them forts) is better seen in person.

The last photo is a room where soldiers slept.

This next photo shows El Morro in the distance and the cemetery on the right. All white grave stones.

Puerto Rico doesn’t only worry about hurricanes. These signs are found on the streets around the two beaches near where I’m staying.

That’s it for today. There will be another food post in a few days, then back to Mexico.

San Juan: The Food

My opinion: the more places I visit, the more I realize there are just a few countries where food is a major attraction. Puerto Rico is not one of them. I’ve eaten a few “local” foods so far and only two were better than average.

The maintenance guy where I’m staying has been a wealth of knowledge. He told me about the cafe at the rear of the grocery store. My fish filet makes the top two list. Nothing fancy here, just tasted good. And it was $5.99. 👍

After leaving my intended restaurant for lack of a seat, I found Jauja Street Food & Spirits. It’s actually two food vendors under the same roof. I ate at Arepas Rellenas. According to my waiter, the arepa is a Venezuelan food. The Puerto Rican version uses wheat instead of corn to make the bread. An arepa is snack size so you need 2 or 3 to make a meal. I ordered the shrimp. Nicely seasoned, I’ll return for some other options.

The sign on the far right says Perurrican. That’s the other vendor, more of a full plate place. Many people start with an arepa then have the big plate.

Next up is Areyto Puerto Rican Fusion. I believe fusion is a word that translates to “our scam to charge higher prices.” I ordered fried pork with an Asian sauce. The meat was so dry I had to ask for additional sauce. Didn’t help much. The sauce was a few fried onions in soy sauce. The pleasant surprise of the meal was the malanga, a root vegetable. I tasted garlic as one of the seasonings. Whatever else they added made for a tasty side dish.

I don’t usually drink smoothies, but I have changed my mind about them after trying one yesterday from Crush Juice Bar. Mine had strawberries, banana, peanut butter, almonds and some other stuff. So delicious!

Most of my meals pass without any drama save for the occasional “sorry, we don’t have that today.” Not so yesterday. I’ve copied and pasted my Google maps review of Café del Ángel below.

“I’d give a zero star rating if I could. After sitting for 30 minutes waiting for my food, I asked where it was only to be told that the waiter never put in the order. Not only that, but he left the restaurant for half of the waiting time. We discussed for a couple of minutes what kind of mofongo I wanted so it wasn’t like he didn’t know. And the $10 drink the bartender concocted was worth half the price. Other people ordered and ate with no apparent complaints. Just my bad luck.”

From there I walked down the street to Ruben’s Café. I ordered mofongo con pollo but the waitress thought I said arroz con pollo, so that’s what I got. I was so happy to see food on a plate in front of me that I decided not to say anything. Towards the end of the meal a different woman asked me about the food. I jokingly told her that it was good but not what I ordered. She must have been the manager or owner because she gave me mofongo free of charge. That was my dinner last night. The good and bad in life usually evens out.

Shiner Bock is the featured image. I stopped in a bar in OSJ and asked for a dark beer. Thought I’d get a Puerto Rican artesanal, but was given a Texas brew.

That’s all for the food update. I’m going back to OSJ tomorrow or Thursday so there will be more photos.

Old San Juan (OSJ)

My new “must do” when arriving in a capital city: take the free walking tour. The guides’ extensive knowledge of the history of the city and country  always make for a most enjoyable history lesson. Be sure to tip well as this is how the guides make a living. Many are students or artists.

For the San Juan tour we met in Plaza Colón (Plaza Christopher Columbus).

One of the oldest buildings in OSJ sits across from the plaza, the national theater. It’s named after Puerto Rico’s most famous playwright.

While I’m on the subject of theater, I spotted this cafe while meandering through OSJ after the tour.

OSJ doesn’t have any “oh wow” architecture, in my opinion. Still, I saw a couple of interesting buildings.

This next photo looked like a typical OSJ residential street.

After the tour it was time for lunch. I headed for El Jiberito, a combination restaurant/cafeteria. You order off a menu, but the food is already prepared. Quick, tasty and relatively affordable. I chose sawfish with onions and peppers and a side of amarillos fritos (fried yellow plantains).

These tours offer highlights of the city which give me an idea of where I want to explore further. I’ll go back to OSJ in a few days, take more photos and post.

Since this visa run centers on writing a new play, there won’t be a lot of sightseeing pictures. Just letting you know. 😁

San Juan First Impressions

Where to begin. I’m staying in a tourist area called Ocean Park. My studio apartment is 1/2 block from a park and 2 blocks from the ocean. You see a lot of houses with signs like this around here advertising rooms/studio apartments for rent.

Long or short-term and a phone number

Last night I ate at an Italian restaurant near my place. I ordered a personal pepperoni that reminded me of a NY slice. It also cost $11. San Juan is expensive. When I told my host my opinion, he laughed and said it didn’t take me long to figure that out.

Medalla is a local beer. I didn’t know it was a light beer when I ordered it. I drank it but it’ll be the only one in this lifetime.

Went to the beach this morning and had to walk through a gated community to get there. The beach is nice and kite surfing is very popular, especially on a day like today when the wind was blowing 20-30mph.

If you look closely at the 3rd photo you can see 4 kite surfers.

For lunch I visited a barbacoa restaurant. The area around it is a little sketchy. Two businesses near it have security guards that buzz you in. The BBQ place is really nice though. I opted for the lunch special, garlic roasted chicken with rice and beans. It almost tasted like the delicious chicken I used to eat at a Puerto Rican restaurant in Brooklyn. Almost.

Ocean Park seems to be divided into two sections. The area near the ocean and the area beyond those 4 blocks. Calle Loiza is a mix of hip, upscale bars and restaurants (restobars, I’ve learned), and empty businesses. Maybe it’s going through a renaissance or the small businesses lost everything in the hurricanes. I discovered some street art, which I’ve read is plentiful in San Juan.

Tomorrow I’m taking a walking tour through Viejo San Juan. More photos to come.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

This is my next destination. A short trip by my standards–2 weeks–I’m truly excited to be going there. I had a favorite Puerto Rican restaurant in Brooklyn when I lived there and can’t wait to taste all of the delicious foods that await me in San Juan. After doing my research I know this will be a food-centric trip. Lots of food trucks offer local fare and I will eat some seafood. How can I be on an island and not do so? 🙂

I going to partake in a few organized activities, but my main focus for this trip will center on food, talking to locals and the beach.

I will be there April 2-16. If you sign up to follow the blog you’ll receive an email each time I publish a post. Hasta luego!