Since I didn’t get a chance to update last week’s post for the rest of our activities in Puerto Rico (and I’m sure the Supreme Court would rule that it is “cruel and unusual” punishment for me to have to write a fresh post the day after returning from vacation), I’m finishing up my trip report.
Sunday, we drove to El Yunque, billed as the only tropical rain forest which flies an American flag. This is true, but only because of the qualifier “tropical.” Washington state boasts the Hoh rain forest, but of course that’s not in the tropics.
There’s barely 15 miles of road in El Yunque (named after the highest mountain peak located there). Most of the attractions are right by the road. The most popular hike, which we did, is to Mina Falls, about 1.5 miles roundtrip. The hike to the falls is downhill, so the return trip is tough on the legs due to elevation gain. (But it’s easy compared to some of the hikes we did in southern Utah in July.)
After the hike, we had lunch at the “acclaimed” Muralla’s, inside the park. For less than $10, we feasted on roasted chicken that had been basted with an incredible sauce, grilled chicken basted with a very forgettable sauce, and rice with red beans. I washed it down with my favorite non-caffeinated beverage: Coco Rico. (This coconut-flavored “uncola” is very popular in Puerto Rico.)
After lunch, it was off to Loquillo Beach. In the small town adjacent to El Yunque, we stopped to check out a bakery and my heart sunk. They had lechon! But we were too stuffed from lunch… We split a leche flan for dessert.
The plan was to stop by on the way back from Loquillo and take the lechon “to go” and have it for lunch the next day. But I couldn’t find my way back.
Unlike the San Juan beaches, Loquillo looks more like the tropical beach imagined by vacationers planning an escape from the cold. But, it’s very noisy. The jet ski rentals are not that loud since they’re away from the beach. Along the beach, everyone is blasting their favorite music. And it’s not just your typical vehicle stereo system. At least two music lovers had big “home stereo” speakers they were using to entertain us.
Unfortunately, we were so stuffed from lunch that we didn’t have any appetite for the almost 60 “kioscos” that line a special area along the beach. Most sell the same foods, which are typically fried. I wanted to check out a cleverly named kiosco: Ceviche Hut (complete with hut image purloined from Pizza Hut), which specialized in Peruvian food.
On the way back to San Juan, we passed through two larger towns and checked out some tourist “tiendas.” In one, I found a confection I love that I regularly ate in the Philippines and which is almost nothing but coconut and dark brown sugar. It came in 7-ounce blocks and I picked up five of them. I noticed that the roads near Loquillo beach are lined with stands advertising “carne de juyes” (crabmeat).
Monday, we headed back to old San Juan. A small cruise ship was in port – Club Med 2. I didn’t know Club Med had a cruise line. It looked small enough not to undermine my requests for a “descuento” (discount) at the stores. Friday, I had found a nice Peruvian mask to add to my collection. It was $25 and when I asked the owner “descuento posible?” he took the price down to $20 without hesitation. (I think “looking” Hispanic helped too; everyone initially spoke to me in Spanish and only when I had trouble in some situations either understanding them or replying did they switch to English and remark that they thought I was Puerto Rican.)
We explored the San Cristobal fort, east of El Morro, constructed to provide the city a defense against land attack. In this area is Plaza de Colon, which has a statute of Columbus. On one side of the plaza is the Haitian gallery, which features beautiful crafts. If you’re going to buy non-local crafts, this is the tienda you want to visit.
Old San Juan dining is very pricey. Even for lunch, entrees typically run $12 and up unless you’re at one of the fast food chains. But on one side of Plaza de Colon, we found a small “food court” and two of the four offered “comidas criollas.”
One had our favorite local fare, which we’d had in Ponce: Puerto Rican lasagna. Instead of pasta layers between the seasoned meat, it is sweet, fried bananas (a/k/a “amarillos” which is Spanish for “yellow” to distinguish them from green plantains.) Just $7, including rice, a small pasta salad and a “refresco” of your choice. Since Susie still had some of a “grande” diet Coke she picked up at a Burger King, I chose…. Coco Rico!
Tuesday, we hit bottom. We had seen everything we had planned so now what? We took a bus to Plaza de Las Americas, home to the largest mall in the Caribbean, including the largest J. C. Penney in the world. I was amazed how many brands that Penney’s carried that were not found in the mainland stores. I was also pleased to see that there was no problem finding “small” (my size), which is often not the case on the mainland, where “L” and “XL” tend to be the predominant size.
The mall’s food court is so big it is in a separate building. Over three dozen eateries. We chose an Argentine place. Afterwards, I enjoyed a “cortado” (espresso with a small amount of milk; not to be confused with café con leche, which is half espresso and half milk.) You won’t be surprised that I brought back 6 pounds of Puerto Rican coffee.
Wednesday, I thought we’d visit a number of museums in old San Juan that we had passed up. Unfortunately, they were all closed. I was told this was due to government budget cuts because of the economy.
So we just hung out and relaxed. At Plaza de Armas, we bought some bread at the “super mercado” and then fed it to plaza pigeons. There were two big cruise ships in the port (Costa and Holland America), so that provided many tourists a photo op. I was glad we had done all the shopping earlier during our stay because with all those thousands of tourists there’d be no “descuento” in the stores. We ended the day at the pier and watched the Costa cruise ship sail out.
Thanksgiving Day was mostly spent traveling. Our return to Orlando took us through Miami, where we had a three hour layover. Both flights back were full. We left San Juan at 9:30 a.m. and arrived in Orlando at 3:30 p.m.
For Thanksgiving dinner, we dined at Shalimar, an Indian restaurant on International Drive, the main tourist drag. There were more folks there than I expected. There were about 18 Indians and 10 Americans, including us, between 5:30 and 6:30.
Susie had chicken biryani (grilled chicken with spices and herbs) and I had a spicy lamb madras. These were accompanied with garlic naan and mango lassis. I had bought a $25 certificate on sale for $2 (normally $10) at restaurant.com. The bill came in right at $50 and so we paid $25, plus tax and tip.
Friday, we headed straight for the huge Prime Outlets mall at the north end of International. Arriving about 9 am, the “inner” small parking lot was full but we found a space in the outer lot’s third row. But when we left about 3:30, there was not a parking spot to be found and the police were directing traffic, even at the traffic light.
I was disappointed with the sales. Bottom line: we bought very little at the mall. I guess all deals were at midnight but I don’t need anything that bad and it was probably mid-40’s that night. The Orlando high on Friday was in the mid-60’s. When we arrived in Tallahassee about 10 pm, it was in the high-40’s and I began to miss the mid-80’s in San Juan, even if the humidity was so high that you were sweating within five minutes of going outdoors.
The highlight of Black Friday was visiting the Ikea store, at the Millenea mall about two miles from the outlet mall. It’s in a stand alone three story building, across from the Bloomindale’s. One floor is a “showroom” where they have bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, etc set up with all their products. If you see something you like, you write down identifying info and pick it up on another floor set up like a warehouse.
I saw a lot of items I wanted but had no room for at home. I did pick up a “leksvik” (side table) that I think will squeeze in next to my armchair and replace a small, tired table there and provide much more storage space. Regularly $50 but on sale for $30. We also picked up a colorful 8 x 2 ½ foot, thick-weave, rug for just $5 (regularly $20).
Lunch in their café was an even better deal. Just $1 got us a plate of 10 Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and a dab of lingonberry sauce. Regularly $5. So I invested some of the savings on a dessert combo of apple cake and bottomless cup of Swedish coffee. Good flavorful coffee, but not as strong as Puerto Rican.
I spent another $25 in their Swedish food store, including three bottles of lingonberry-apple juice sparkling beverage. This winter, I’ll be sipping espresso from Puerto Rican coffee while nibbling Swedish cappuchino-flavored thin cookies. Yaaah! This will strangely combine two heritages I am aware of: Spanish from my mother and some Swedish from my father, at least according to a family tree someone on my father’s side did that purports a Swedish branch that includes a King of Denmark after it became independent from Sweden. (So Fakename, my aristocratic bent is hereditary! 😉 )
I’ve got about 150 photos to organize and post to my travel photo website. I may be able to get that done by around New Year’s.