San Andrés Island

This may be the last island I visit for more than three days. Not because it’s a terrible place to stay (although it’s nothing special), but because of the climate. At one time I luxuriated in hot and humid tropical climates: Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Caribbean islands. Now, I barely tolerate them. Here’s a photo of my shirt after walking outside one morning for 20 minutes.

About the island

San Andrés belongs to Colombia, but lies much closer to Nicaragua. It’s a 1 1/2 hour flight from Cartagena, the closest mainland city. And, you have to pay a visitors’ tax of ~$40usd, which is $35 too much.

The main downtown has 90% of the action. If you stay on another part of the island, like I did, services, restaurants, etc. are scarce. You really need to rent a vehicle to get around (moto, jeep, golf cart) and they will cost you a bit of money. The jeep-like vehicle was quoted at $60/day! The golf cart was $40 but could be driven only until 6pm.

Food

I ate one of my four memorable meals here. Four memorable meals in 23 days. Enough said about that. But, a penne pasta with pears and blue cheese sat at the top of the list. It’s available at Aqua Beach Club.

There was a fast food stand near my Airbnb that opened at 6:30 each evening. The name was The Queen of the Fast Food. The owner, a young woman, sold only five items. I ordered the Chorry Perro (chorizo hotdog). Grilled, topped with bacon and onions, ooh, it was tasty.

I wanted to try a chuzo, but she was out of them. All she told me was that it’s made with chicken.

As an aside, I asked her what it was like living on San Andrés. Sometimes it felt like a prison, she said. She’s been to four cities on the mainland and hopes to travel more one day.

Things to do

Like most islands, snorkeling and diving constitute the main activities, along with hanging out at the beach. I’m sure boats can be rented or tours taken for some deep sea fishing. Beyond water-related activities, there’s not much to see or do. It’s a small island.

One day I decided to walk downtown. It took 75 minutes and I kept to the shade every chance I had. I passed by the oldest church on the island (Baptist, not Catholic as you might expect); built in 1844.

I was totally intrigued by a vacant house I encountered, including a car and a boat in the yard. Someone rich lived occupied it at one time. My Airbnb host told me it’s likely a narco trafficker resided there and had to make a hasty exit.

Summary

Anyone traveling to Colombia who wants to visit an island, I would suggest switching San Andrés for the Rosario Islands, just a short boat ride from Cartagena. Closer and much more beautiful.

If you still want to see San Andrés, bring money. Most everything is expensive. If you want to stay away from the downtown area, I’d recommend House of the Sun Hostal. It’s where I stayed and it made my time on the island tolerable.

One more post coming after this summarizing the entire trip.

Expanding the Blog (a little)

I thought this blog would only cover my Croatia/Slovenia trip, but decided I didn’t want to create a new one for every trip I took so I added ‘and more’ to the title. Now, I want to add something new to the ‘and more.’

Oaxaca, the city I’ve called home for 2 1/2 years, has much to offer. I will highlight special things about it. For example, I’m not going to publish a post for every restaurant I visit. When I encounter a special meal, then I will. Also, I have a friend visiting in May, so I will blog her week here. That’s the blog expansion.

My first post features a restaurant called El Quinque. It’s located in El Centro on Calle Miguel Hidalgo and has become the new favorite restaurant for me and two of my friends. We all agree El Quinque makes the best burger in Oaxaca. We’ve tested 4 of the places that show up frequently on Facebook pages and are highly rated on websites; one major reason is you get the burger the way you asked for it. Most places, no matter how you want it you get well done. Another is the bun; fresh, soft, but sturdy.

I honestly believe they serve the best steak as well even though I have not tried another one in the city. That’s a brazen statement but I will stand by it simply because of all the steaks I’ve eaten elsewhere in the past. What makes it stand out for me is that it’s made with aracherra, which is skirt steak, a cut from the belly of the cow. The meat must undergo a lengthy marination — usually with a concoction that includes citrus juice, garlic, chiles and onions. Aracherra is commonly used in tacos, fajitas and in Oaxaca, tlayudas. However, it tastes best as a regular steak, juicy, flavorful and tender; there’s a bit of a sweet taste to it. I can’t recommend this place enough.

An added bonus: since the owner is also the chef he’s probably going to be there to answer questions you may have. He speaks English. I guess that’s two bonuses.

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.