an afternoon at the beach & sunset in old san juan

Tags

, , , , , ,

Friday, August 15:  This afternoon, we head to the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park.  We enjoy a leisurely time swimming and relaxing.  We have fun watching a bunch of crazy daredevils doing a sport I’ve never seen before: kiteboarding.

kiteboarders at the beach

kiteboarders at the beach

sunbathers and kite boarders

sunbathers and kite boarders

Kiteboarding is a surface water sport combining aspects of wake boarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, and gymnastics into one extreme sport.  A kiteboarder harnesses the power of the wind with a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water on a kiteboard similar to a wakeboard  or a small surfboard, with or without footstraps or bindings (Wikipedia: Kitesurfing).

the beach at Ocean Park

the beach at Ocean Park

Ocean Park beach

Ocean Park beach

We have fun watching these people.  Some of them look pretty good, pulled to unnatural heights by the kite.  For a tense time, we watch one poor guy who’s being dragged through the ocean.  He’s fallen off his board into the ocean, and the kite is on the surface of the water.  He’s strapped to the kite and is being dragged down the beach by the current and the wind.  A woman is following him down the shore, yapping away on a walkie-talkie.  Obviously the guy is unable to control the kite.  When he finally washes ashore and walks west past us to the origin point, I hear him tell the woman how terrifying it was to have no control and to be completely at the mercy of the ocean currents and wind.

Shouldn’t the company renting the sail and board have had a boat in the water to rescue novices or people in trouble?

hotels & residences along the beach at Ocean Park

hotels & residences along the beach at Ocean Park

the Ocean Park beach

the Ocean Park beach

After we’ve had our fill of the beach, we walk over to Wind Chimes Boutique Hotel, sister hotel to our Acacia Boutique Hotel (I love all these “boutiques!”), where we finally, on our last day, check out the tiny swimming pool there.  We don’t stay long, but we swim around for a short time just to wash off our sand-covered bodies.

the pool at Wind Chimes Hotel

the pool at Wind Chimes Hotel

After our afternoon of relaxation, we go to the north side of Old San Juan to see the sunset.  We have some beautiful views as the sun slides into the ocean over El Morro and Bahia de San Juan.

walking along the Norzagaray along Old San Juan's northern coast

walking along the Norzagaray along Old San Juan’s northern coast

The School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico

The School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico

Sunset over Bahia de San Juan and El Morro

Sunset over Bahia de San Juan and El Morro

Sunset in Old San Juan

Sunset in Old San Juan

Sunset in Old San Juan

Sunset in Old San Juan

pretty skies

pretty skies

painterly clouds

painterly clouds

Sunset in Old San Juan

Sunset in Old San Juan

We walk back toward SoFo to eat dinner, passing the ramparts of El Morro and the Puerta de San Juan.

ramparts of El Morro

ramparts of El Morro

Puerta de San Juan

Puerta de San Juan

As I’m walking along, I see the dramatic religious procession at Plazuela de la Rogativa.  As I’m snapping away at the statue in the waning light, I fall flat on my butt because I don’t notice the steps leading down to the statue.  This is the second fall I’ve taken in Puerto Rico, and I’m lucky I don’t break my leg or worse!

Plazuela de la Rogativa

Plazuela de la Rogativa

Plazuela de la Rogativa

Plazuela de la Rogativa

Plazuela de la Rogativa

Plazuela de la Rogativa

We pass once again by the Catedral de San Juan.

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

We’re looking for a new restaurant to try that serves Mofongo, because I really want to eat that dish one more time before I leave.  We stop in at one place and sit down, but there is no air-conditioning. It’s so sweltering and close that we sneak out before anyone even notices we sat down.  We continue walking.

Finally we end up right back at Restaurante Raices, where we ate our first night here.  We put our name on the wait list, and then pop next door to Lupi’s Mexican Grill to say hello to Omi, our favorite bartender, and to have cocktails.

back at Lupi's

back at Lupi’s

Restaurante Raices

Restaurante Raices

slave girl waitresses at Raices

slave girl waitresses at Raices

My stomach has been feeling a little queasy since I ate those chewy mussels at Via Appia on Wednesday night, and after eating this last dish of Mofongo, I feel really sick.  I think I’ve been eating too many deep-fried foods while here.  I also think I’m starting to get nervous about my upcoming move to China.  It seems I’m forever to be torn between being with my family and satisfying my wanderlust, and the two opposing draws can never be reconciled.  I’m making myself sick with worry.

When we leave the restaurant, we find there is a big food festival going on in the town, and people are out in droves.  It would be fun to stop and have another beer at one of the outdoor cafes, but I feel so sick, I just can’t do it.  It’s too bad my last night in San Juan is ruined by this.

We end up going back to the hotel room where it feels only slightly better to lie down. Sadly, we leave Puerto Rico tomorrow, and exactly two weeks from tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane to China.  You’ll find me there at catbird in china.

What a lovely holiday we had in Puerto Rico.  It was nice to have time alone with Mike to practice being a married couple again. 🙂

Advertisements

missing la fortaleza on a return trip to old san juan

Tags

, , ,

Friday, August 15:  We had noted the times that English tours are given at La Fortaleza, but when we drop off our rental car and take a taxi into Old San Juan this morning to take the 8:50 tour, we’re told La Fortaleza is closed today for official business.  We’ll fly back home tomorrow morning, so this is our last chance to see it.  Sometimes the best laid plans simply don’t work out.

La Fortaleza - off limits today

La Fortaleza – off-limits today

Church next to La Fortaleza

Church next to La Fortaleza

Instead, we enjoy coffee again at Cafe Cuatro Sombras, where we had coffee our first day in San Juan.  We walk around SoFo and take advantage of photo ops while the streets are nearly deserted and the light is good.  We walk around and about the charming and colorful streets of the colonial town.

Cafe Cuatro Sombras

Cafe Cuatro Sombras

Cool lights in Cafe Cuatro Sombras

Cool lights in Cafe Cuatro Sombras

Estacionamiento Doña Fela

Estacionamiento Doña Fela

SoFo

SoFo

Raices, where we ate our first night and where we'll eat again tonight

Raices, where we ate our first night and where we’ll eat again tonight

Lupi's ~ home of Omi

Lupi’s ~ home of Omi

Sidewalk cafes in SoFo

Sidewalk cafes in SoFo

balconies galore

balconies galore

We pop into the Museo de San Juan, which in 1857 was a bustling marketplace.  Today we see an exhibit of characters made from flip flops and shoe soles found washed up on the shores of the island.

People made from shoe soles and beach debris

People made from shoe soles and beach debris

shoe sole people

shoe sole people

We take a taxi back to the art district of Santurce because I want to capture some of the interesting street art.

statue in Santurce

statue in Santurce

sculpture in Santurce

sculpture in Santurce

pineapple anyone?

pineapple anyone?

street art in Santurce

street art in Santurce

funny skeleton

funny skeleton

bursts of color

bursts of color

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Christian Science Church

Christian Science Church

yet another colorful building :-)

yet another colorful building 🙂

We walk back to our hotel from here, where we spend the afternoon relaxing at the beach. 🙂

the arecibo observatory & a drive through karst country

Tags

, , , ,

Thursday, August 14:  This morning, we plan to drive northwest from San Juan to visit the Arecibo Observatory and then drive through the karst mountains of the country.  We’re following a driving tour outlined by Lonely Planet Puerto Rico.  Before we depart, we stop at Quiznos, where we pick up coffee and bread and cheese for a picnic lunch.  Then we go to Condado pick up juice drinks from Crush Juice Bar.  Mike gets a “Red Carpet” and I get a “Mango Berry Blitz.”  These huge and healthy drinks make for a tasty breakfast.  I also pick up some plantain chips for snacking.

Crush Juice Bar

Crush Juice Bar

After a 2-hour-long drive where we keep setting off alarms at every toll plaza, we arrive at the Ángel Ramos Foundation Visitor Center, opened in 1997, which features interactive exhibits and displays about the operations of the radio telescope, astronomy and atmospheric science.

These scientists at the entrance seem to be involved in a serious discussion.

a serious scientific discussion happening in the entryway to the visitor's center

a serious scientific discussion happening in the entryway to the visitor’s center

The Arecibo Observatory is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), operated by a consortium of SRI International, USRA , UMET, under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Observatory

The observatory’s radio telescope is the world’s largest single-aperture telescope. It is used in three major areas of research: radio astronomy, aeronomy, and radar astronomy. Scientists who want to use the telescope submit proposals that are evaluated by an independent scientific board.

Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Observatory

The telescope has made appearances in motion picture and television productions, including the James Bond movie, GoldenEye, and Contact, starring Jodie Foster. It got more recognition in 1999 when it began to collect data for the SETI@home project. It has been listed on the American National Register of Historic Places since 2008.

The main collecting dish is 1,000 ft (305 m) in diameter, constructed inside the depression left by a karst sinkhole. It contains the largest curved focusing dish on Earth, giving Arecibo the largest electromagnetic-wave-gathering capacity.  The dish surface is made of 38,778 perforated aluminum panels, each about 3 by 6 feet (1 by 2 m), supported by a mesh of steel cables. The ground underneath is accessible and supports shade-tolerant vegetation. (Wikipedia: Arecibo Observatory)

Arecibo

Arecibo

To aim the telescope, the receiver is moved to intercept signals reflected from different directions by the spherical dish surface.  The receiver is on a 900-ton platform suspended 150 m (500 ft) above the dish by 18 cables running from three reinforced concrete towers, one 110 m (365 ft) high and the other two 80 m (265 ft) high, placing their tops at the same elevation.

the telescope

the receiver

Karst mountains and one of the reinforced concrete towers

Karst mountains and one of the reinforced concrete towers

The platform has a 93-meter-long rotating bow-shaped track, called the azimuth arm, carrying the receiving antennas and secondary and tertiary reflectors. This allows the telescope to observe any region of the sky in a forty-degree cone of visibility about the local zenith.  Puerto Rico’s location near the Northern Tropic allows Arecibo to view the planets in the Solar System over the Northern half of their orbit. The round trip light time to objects beyond Saturn is longer than the 2.6 hour time that the telescope can track a celestial position, preventing radar observations of more distant objects.  (Wikipedia: Arecibo Observatory)

Mike at the Arecibo Observatory

Mike at the Arecibo Observatory

me at the Arecibo Observatory

me at the Arecibo Observatory

On the way out of the observatory, I take some photos of the surrounding forest and mountains.

view of the forest around the observatory

view of the forest around the observatory

the mountains around Arecibo

the mountains around Arecibo

We take a drive through Puerto Rican towns on curvy mountain roads and it’s painstakingly slow going.  But we get to see how regular Puerto Ricans live in the mountainous regions.

colorful cemetery near Arecibo

colorful cemetery near Arecibo

cemetery near Arecibo

cemetery near Arecibo

colorful house typical of many we pass in the mountains

colorful house typical of many we pass in the mountains

Karst Country has hills and mogotes, which are jutting peaks. The karst formations in Puerto Rico are a result of carbonic acid in the water systems draining into cracks in the limestone of the island. Due to Puerto Rico’s climate, this process has left many caves and canyons on the island that make up the third-largest cave system in the world. These “karstic landscapes” can be found throughout the north coast of Puerto Rico. (Planetware: Puerto Rico’s North Coast Attractions)

the karst mountain area

the karst mountain area

mountain views

mountain views

beer is the answer

Medalla Beer, Dewar’s Scotch or Bacardi ~ what shall it be?

the karst mountains

the karst mountains

Lonely Planet Puerto Rico recommended two lakes to visit along the drive through karst country.  We stopped at one, and now I forget the name.  It was mediocre at best.  I guess I was expecting something a little more exotic, lush and tropical.

a nondescript lake

a nondescript lake

dam at the lake

dam at the lake

the river below the dam

the river below the dam

the mountains next to the river

the mountains next to the river

We make a stop for drinks and snacks and Mike buys himself some Nutter Butter cookies.  He already bought a jar of peanut butter to have in our hotel room;  he spreads it on crackers when he has a hankering for a snack.  I know that, in general, he loves snacks of peanut butter on graham crackers, on celery, basically on anything, often with raisins sprinkled on top.  When I see he has bought himself some Nutter Butters, I say, “You and your peanut butter.  You really ought to be a peanut butter farmer.”  He cracks up laughing.  Of course, I meant to say he ought to be a peanut farmer, not a peanut BUTTER farmer.  He says, “Yep, I need to go and grow some peanut butter!”  This is another ridiculous joke we share for the rest of our trip.

In the afternoon, we return to our hotel and sit in the jacuzzi again with rum and grapefruit juice.  Then we head out for dinner at the most atmospheric restaurant in the Miramar area, Casita Miramar.   The decoration is romantic and filled with cookbooks, old photos of Miramar, vintage furniture, a high ceiling and beautiful arches. It’s like being transported back to another era.  The menu is written on a chalkboard so it can be readily changed.  The restaurant focuses on giving traditional Puerto Rican dishes a creative touch.

Casita Miramar

Casita Miramar

Mike orders a stuffed red pepper dish and I order sea bass. The restaurant staff is very efficient, almost too much so. Because of their super speed and efficiency, we feel a bit like we’re being rushed.  The staff brings a free corn fritter appetizer that’s delicious, but as we had already ordered other appetizers, we had a twice as much as we intended, making us as stuffed as the peppers.  A delicious dinner and lovely evening.

Stuffed peppers

Stuffed peppers

Sea bass

Sea bass

a day in the south: a “ghost” town, hacienda buena vista & ponce

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 13:  This morning we walk to Condado to have breakfast at a nice-looking restaurant called Blonda.  A group of about 20 Puerto Rican mothers are meeting for breakfast too, and their chatter and laughter fill the restaurant.  They also command the complete attention of the wait staff, so of course the two of us don’t get great service.  We down two cups of coffee each while waiting.  When my “divorced eggs with salsa verde and red salsa and refried beans” finally do arrive, they’re artistic, light and delicious.  The red and green salsas are poured on the plate in a kind of yin and yang pattern, and one fried egg sits in each color of salsa with a mound of refried beans in the middle.  Mike orders Greek yogurt with fruit and granola.  We both share bites of each other’s meal, as we do these days.

When we get the bill, we’re shocked by the price and we find the restaurant has charged outrageous sums for our four cups of coffee. Most restaurants give you free refills of coffee, but this one didn’t.  Because of the poor service and the cost of breakfast, we decide never to return to this place.

After breakfast, we walk back to the hotel to get ready to drive to Ponce, on the south of the island.  We plan to make a couple of stops before getting to Ponce.  The first is Aguirre in Salinas municipality, which became a “ghost” town after the Aguirre Sugar Cane Mill, the last operational sugar cane mill in Puerto Rico, closed its doors in 1993.  Sugar cane cultivation was part of Puerto Rico’s identity until the 20th century.

The first farms producing the sweetener date to the 16th century.  After centuries of alternating prosperity and decline, the first decades of the 20th century saw the sugar industry reach its peak. Despite the establishment of huge sugar trading businesses, some mills backed by Puerto Rican capital also showed considerable production capacity. By 1930, there were 44 mills in operation. In the 1940s, however, the mills began to weaken due to the fall in the price of sugar, mismanagement by some administrators, and the restriction of credit to independent farmers.  Strikes by workers created conflict and conditions that led to the decline and eventual closure of many of the mills in the subsequent decades.

part of the closed sugar cane mill

part of the closed sugar cane mill

Following the record sugar cane harvest of 1952, the industry experienced accelerated deterioration. Additionally, sugar production took a lower priority as the government undertook to industrialize the island. Between 1951 and 1968, 17 mills ceased operations. At the end of the 1960s, the government tried to rescue the industry through a recovery program. The Land Authority acquired a significant number of mills and in 1973 created the Sugar Corporation. Despite the fact that the government became the principal sugar producer in Puerto Rico, the mills, both privately and publicly funded, were shut down, one by one. (Puerto Rico Encyclopedia: Sugar in Puerto Rico)

I read about this “ghost town” in Lonely Planet Puerto Rico and thought it would be cool to see.  We could see the mill, but it was behind a chain link fence and was off-limits.  In addition, the old homes with their large wrap-around porches and verandas seem to still be occupied.  Maybe the mill closed down, but people are still living here and doing something!  Maybe ghosts inhabit the mill itself, but the town seems alive and well.

the "ghost town" of Aguirre

the “ghost town” of Aguirre

Houses in the "ghost town" of Aguirre

Houses in the “ghost town” of Aguirre

Before we left the hotel this morning, we made a 1:00 appointment for a tour at Hacienda Buena Vista.  English language tours are limited and must be reserved ahead.  Because it took us a while to find Aguirre, we worry about arriving late for the tour.  Luckily, we make it with time to spare.

At the beginning of the guided tour, we are given a brief history of the original owners.  Hacienda Buena Vista is a coffee plantation and estate established in the 19th century near Ponce. The plantation was started by Don Salvador de Vives in 1833. It is now owned by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust (Fideicomiso de Conservación), who operates it as a museum. It sits on 81.79 acres of fertile land that includes a humid subtropical forest.  The plantation house was built in the Spanish Colonial style, with the surrounding buildings, such as slave quarters and farm buildings, built in the local Criollo style.  In the processing areas, the processing equipment, powered by water from a waterfall, is still in working condition.

Restored and operated by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, Hacienda Buena Vista provides a glimpse of living and working conditions in times past.

Carriage used on the coffee plantation at Hacienda Buena Vista

Carriage used on the coffee plantation at Hacienda Buena Vista

Burlap bags of coffee beans were shipped far and wide.

Burlap sacks of coffee beans

Burlap sacks of coffee beans

Tin stencils was used to stamp the destination on each bag of coffee.

The stencils used to stamp the bags of coffee beans with their ultimate destination

The stencils used to stamp the bags of coffee beans with their ultimate destination

We tour the farm-house.  Many of the furnishings have been donated by the original family.

bedroom at Hacienda Buena Vista

bedroom at Hacienda Buena Vista

study at the hacienda

study at the hacienda

dining room

dining room

kitchen at the hacienda

kitchen at the hacienda

Gathering room at the hacienda

Gathering room at the hacienda

birdcage at the hacienda

birdcage at the hacienda

Hacienda Buena Vista outbuildings

Hacienda Buena Vista outbuildings

the mule, or is it the donkey?

the mule, or is it the donkey?

Next, we take a walk through the forest to see the waterfall that runs the machinery. Along the way, the guide explains the coffee growing process and points out other interesting trees and plants such as the bay palm, the leaves of which are used for healing and medicinal purposes, much like eucalyptus.  The waterway, which carries water from the falls to the processing equipment, is visible all along the path.

the walk through the forest

the walk through the forest

a bay palm, the leaves of which are used for healing, much like eucalyptus

a bay palm, the leaves of which are used for healing, much like eucalyptus

When we get to the waterfall that powers the machinery, the path abruptly ends.  All this time I’m expecting to see a coffee plantation.  The coffee at this plantation was grown in the forest, our guide had earlier explained, so I expected to see the plantation in the forest.  But the guide tells me the plantation takes about 3 hours to hike to.  She says once or twice a year they take people to the plantation.  I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.  The whole reason we came here was to see the plantation!

the waterfall that powered much of the operation

the waterfall that powered much of the operation

As we return to the processing area, we are told about the coffee process – drying, cleaning, roasting etc. It is very interesting how nature came into play in the process – they used the sun to dry the beans, but the drying racks roll into a specially designed building in case of rain.

platforms where the coffee beans were dried

platforms where the coffee beans were dried

The Hacienda is significant for various reasons. First, it contains the only remaining example of the Barker hydraulic turbine, which was the first reaction type turbine ever made.   During the tour, the machinery is operated, powered by the waterfall, just as it was during the original days of coffee production.

Second, Hacienda Buena Vista offers one of the best remaining examples of a Puerto Rican coffee plantation. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the coffee produced in Puerto Rico and exported to Europe and the United States was considered among the finest in the world. It is said to have even been the favorite at the Vatican at the time. The Hacienda shows the coffee industry’s evolution in the region.

Sadly, we only get to see specimen coffee plants, and below, our guide shows off one of them.

a coffee plant

a coffee plant

close up of the coffee plant

close up of the coffee plant

Though we as tourists came into the Hacienda at one entrance, the real entrance is in the forest, beside this stream that flows peacefully down a hill.  When guests arrived, water was let out of gates at the top of the hill and, because of bumps in the water-bed, it danced down the hill in glee, showing how pleased the hacienda owner was to receive guests.  Apparently the design was inspired by the owner’s visit to Victoria Falls.

the stream at the entrance to the Hacienda.  Quiet before the guests arrive

the stream at the entrance to the Hacienda. Quiet before the guests arrive

when guests arrive, gates are opened to let more water out and the water dances as it flows down due to spikes in the bed

when guests arrive, gates are opened to let more water out and the water dances as it flows down due to spikes in the bed

We are also shown an example of a cocoa plant.

cocoa plant

cocoa plant

We leave the Hacienda more than a little disappointed.  The Hacienda is nice and the curators at the museum are kind and knowledgeable, but I really wanted to see a coffee plantation and I didn’t see one.  Oh well.  I’ve long ago come to understand that not everything you see while traveling lives up to its hype.  I have to accept it as it is and move on.

We get in the car and head down the road to Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second largest city.  Ponce was founded in 1692 by Juan Ponce de León’s great-grandson – Loíza Ponce de León. Ponce was Spain’s capital of the southern region until it fell to the U.S. in 1898.

Nearly one half a billion dollars have been spent preserving the colonial core of Ponce. The heart of Ponce dates from the late 17th century and has been declared a national treasure. It consists of plazas and churches and highly decorative colonial homes, some glorious fountains and a unique fire station (Welcome to Puerto Rico: Ponce).  It also supposedly has a lot of museums.

We drive into the center of town, where we park and walk by some kind of music museum.

Music Museum in Ponce

Music Museum in Ponce

We head toward the central square in the town, Plaza las Delicias, dating back to the early Spanish settlement in Ponce of 1670.

Colorful streets of Ponce

Colorful streets of Ponce

Ponce

Ponce

In Plaza las Delicias, we find a lot of painted lions, much like the painted moose my son Alex and I found in Bennington, Vermont this summer.  The Lion Stop (or La Parada de los Leones, Ponce 2012) concept was another idea to bring some art and culture to Ponce, increasing local tourism, and helping to boost the economy of Ponce.

Painted lions in Plaza las Delicias

Painted lions in Plaza las Delicias

Roaring Art in the Plaza (Ruge el Arte en la Plaza) started with the town of Ponce providing 15 local artists with white, life-sized lion sculptures. The artists were asked them to make them into works of art that represent their interpretation of Ponce — be it cultural, historical, political … anything they felt.

The first public exhibition of the lions was in early 2012. Now, they are permanently placed around Ponce’s main plaza, Plaza las Delicias.

Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe is the cathedral for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Ponce. The cathedral lies in the middle of Ponce’s town square, Plaza las Delicias.  The cathedral was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and is the seat of the Bishop of Ponce.

The cathedral has a history that dates to 1670. It has been damaged several times by fires and earthquakes. It stands out among Puerto Rico’s other four cathedrals for its intricate neoclassical design.

Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

painted lion and the cathedral in Plaza las Delicias

painted lion and the cathedral in Plaza las Delicias

Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe with painted lion in front

Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe with painted lion in front

Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

By this time, we’re famished, so we’re mostly interested in finding a place to eat.  We walk past this abandoned hotel.

a now derelict hotel

a now derelict hotel

We pop into a tacky souvenir shop called Utopia, which has a diner-like bar.  We had already looked around the town for a restaurant and couldn’t seem to find one.  We ordered boring ham and cheese sandwiches, but I guess when you’re hungry, anything will do.

In the tourist shop where we stop to eat

In the tourist shop where we stop to eat

souvenirs

souvenirs

Puerto Rican hats

Puerto Rican hats

masks in the souvenir shop

masks in the souvenir shop

Colonial architecture

Colonial architecture

statue in Plaza las Delicias

statue in Plaza las Delicias

official building in Ponce

official building in Ponce

Ponce's colorful buildings

Ponce’s colorful buildings

Church in Ponce

Church in Ponce

Parque de Bombas (literally in English “Park of Pumps”) is a historic firehouse located directly behind the Cathedral in Plaza Las Delicias.  It is one of Puerto Rico’s most notable buildings, with some considering it “by far the most easily recognized landmark in the Island.”  The building housed the city’s main fire station for many years, and it is now a museum. Its name comes from the mobile hand-pumped fire fighting units the building once housed. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 12, 1984.

Parque de Bombas

Parque de Bombas

Parque de Bombas

Parque de Bombas

Parque de Bombas

Parque de Bombas

Weird statue at Parque de Bombas

Weird statue at Parque de Bombas

We’re really too exhausted to search for museums or interesting sights in Ponce.  We just want to drive back to the San Juan area and relax.  It’s quite late in the afternoon when we get our car and leave the town.

Once again, during our entire drive today, we’ve been setting off alarms at the toll plazas, and every time, I turn around and look over my shoulder to see if the cops are in hot pursuit.  It never happens, of course, and Mike cracks up every time he sees me do it.

Another ongoing joke between us is the level of the seats in the car.  The driver’s seat is very high up for some reason, and the passenger seat is very low and the height cannot be adjusted.  I feel like I can barely see over the dashboard and Mike looks like the Jolly Green Giant sitting beside me.  Every time I look over at him, I crack up laughing at how ridiculous it must look to other drivers, the giant and the midget, driving along in this car that sets off alarms at every toll booth we pass through.

We have a lovely drive through the mountains and then go back to our room for rum and coke cocktails.  We drink them in the jacuzzi, as we have done nearly every afternoon of our holiday.  After we get dressed, we walk down the beach toward Condado, where we eat dinner at Via Appia.  I have red wine and mussels, with key lime pie for dessert.  The mussels are very large and chewy, not the best quality, and I feel a little queasy after.  Mike orders broiled pork with arroz and beans.  Also not the best.  It seems it’s not a good idea to eat Puerto Rican food from an Italian restaurant.

drinks at Via Appia

drinks at Via Appia

Tomorrow we plan to drive northwest to see the Arecibo Observatory, where the films Goldeneye and Contact were filmed.

 

making the most of a rainy day: a beach walk, brunch at el convento & the museo de arte

Tags

, , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 12:  Today the weather forecast is for sunshine in the morning followed by rain all afternoon.  We decide we’ll take advantage of the outdoors in the morning by walking to Quiznos for coffee and taking a long walk on the beach.

Ocean Park/Condado Beach

Ocean Park Beach

Ocean Park/Condado Beach - to the west

Ocean Park beach – to the west

We see a local man wading in the surf, and he’s quite a photogenic fellow.  Sadly, I’m always afraid to approach strangers to ask if I can take a photo.  I feel like it’s invasive, so I don’t ask.  I wish I could be bolder in this regard.

Ocean Park/Condado Beach

Ocean Park Beach

Ocean Park/Condado Beach

Ocean Park Beach

surf's up

surf’s up

waves of the Atlantic

waves of the Atlantic

the foamy ocean at Ocean Park/Condado Beach

the foamy ocean at Ocean Park Beach

As we walk close to the point where our curve of beach ends, we can see Condado around the corner on its own arc of beach.

Around the point, views of Condado

Around the point, views of Condado

After our walk, we return to the hotel to put on our bathing suits and then head back out to relax on the beach for a while, dipping in the water whenever we get too hot.  The water is so clear and refreshing.  A number of boot camps are being conducted on the beach.  A group of women is doing sit-ups directly on the sand, without benefit of towels or yoga mats; this looks like pure torture.  I don’t like getting covered with sand on the beach anyway, and I certainly couldn’t stand sweating and then rolling in it!

After our time at the beach, we drive to the north side of Old San Juan and park in a garage near El Morro. We’re headed to brunch at El Convento, and we pass some familiar landmarks along the way.

Totem pole at Plaza del Quinto Centenario

Totem pole at Plaza del Quinto Centenario

San Jose Church

San Jose Church

Walking toward El Convento, we follow several people who walk into this pretty courtyard full of turquoise arches.  I overhear a woman say it is, or was, some kind of school.

A pretty little courtyard on the way to El Convento

A pretty little courtyard on the way to El Convento

A pretty little courtyard on the way to El Convento

A pretty little courtyard on the way to El Convento

pretty little courtyard

pretty little courtyard

the courtyard of the turquoise arches

the courtyard of the turquoise arches

We pass by a tapas bar, El Picoteo, with its pretty yellow walls and cool statue.

Tapas bar attached to El Convento

Tapas bar attached to El Convento

And across from El Convento is the Catedral de San Juan.  The clouds are gathering overhead.

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

Before going into El Convento, we get a glimpse down a cobblestone street.

Streets of Old San Juan

Streets of Old San Juan

We take a seat in the open air courtyard, as the predicted rain hasn’t yet made its appearance.  I order a mimosa, even though it’s really too early to be drinking. 🙂  I also have a most delicious El Convento Caribbean Benedict: poached eggs with roasted pork and hollandaise sauce served over sweet ripe plantain mash and red bliss potatoes with onions and peppers.

El Convento's courtyard

El Convento’s courtyard

Mike forgoes the alcohol and goes for the lemonade to accompany his crema de maiz: corn hot cereal made with cinnamon infused milk, vanilla bean (sauce) and pure vanilla extract.  It tastes like a liquid version of flan.  Quite yummy.

Courtyard at El Convento

Courtyard at El Convento

El Convento

El Convento

Cushion seats under shelter at El Convento

Cushion seats under shelter at El Convento

After brunch, we walk toward La Fortaleza, passing more colorful homes along the way.

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

When we reach La Fortaleza, we’re told we just missed the English language tour and there won’t be another one for a while.  We find out the schedule and vow to visit another day.  We stop near the Chapel of Christ the Savior, built in 1753-1789 on top of the city walls. Legend traces its origin to a miraculous happening at the site.

Chapel of Christ the Savior

Chapel of Christ the Savior

Behind this we enjoy a panoramic view of the Bahia de San Juan and the city under a darkening sky.

a view of the city with the clouds rolling in

a view of the city, with the clouds rolling in

Colorful Old San Juan

Colorful Old San Juan

We make our way back up the hill to the parking lot as the clouds begin to weep.  Right before we get to the garage, we’re soaked by a sudden downpour.

Back in the car, we try to find the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, housed in a neoclassical building from the 1920s, formerly known as the San Juan Municipal Hospital.  It is one of the biggest museums in the Caribbean and a local house for collections from the 17th century. The museum is in the heart of Santurce, steps away from the Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art.

It also has a 2.5 acre sculpture garden.

It takes us a while to find it as we keep getting lost and driving around in circles.

Entrance to Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Entrance to Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

We walk out back and into the sculpture garden since the rain hasn’t yet started, though it’s threatening.

the back side of the museum, leading to the sculpture garden

the back side of the museum, leading to the sculpture garden

colorful koi

colorful koi

Lily pond at the sculpture garden

Lily pond at the sculpture garden

an artsy workshed

an artsy workshed

in the sculpture garden

in the sculpture garden

a sculpture in a bamboo grove

a sculpture in a bamboo grove

bamboo grove

bamboo grove

in the sculpture garden, an umbrella of trees

in the sculpture garden, an umbrella of trees

Sculpture garden

Sculpture garden

in the sculpture garden

in the sculpture garden

Just when we’re about a third of the way along the path, it starts pouring, and we run inside for cover.

Inside, the museum’s collection is spectacular.  Sadly we’re not allowed to take pictures.  We enjoy the silkscreen posters supported by the Puerto Rican government for “cultural education.”  One room has a huge and colorful barbershop installation titled: “Don’t cry in the barbershop.”  This I would have loved to photograph.

I love the painting of a foreign woman walking among a group of sinewy slaves by Carlos Cancio, titled:  “Por la encendida calle Antillana va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba” (2003) and the religious painting by Marta Pérez: “La Virgen del Café” (1981-1983).

I also love the exhibit on the Puerto Rican diaspora, including the tent by Rafael Ferrer: “El gran cannibal” (1979).

There’s also a modern-day version of an old painting by Francisco Oller, created in three dimensions, about the weird Spanish tradition of celebrating a baby’s death at a festive wake, by Rafael Trelles: “Visitas a “El velorio” (Homenaje a Francisco Oller)” (1991).

One whole exhibit is about the relationship that Puerto Ricans have with the venerable plantain.  Some of the paintings and photographs are quite sexually explicit.

There’s another room with empty journals displayed on every wall.  The covers are artistically decorated by various artists.  As a person who’s always attracted to journals, I could spend a couple of hours just studying these covers and imagining what could be written inside.

This is a wonderful museum that I highly recommend people visit when they go to Puerto Rico.

After we’ve finished walking through the exhibit, we poke our heads out the door to see if the rain has let up.  It’s stopped, at least momentarily, so we go back out to finish our walk through the sculpture garden.

After leaving the museum, we return to our hotel room to relax for a while.  Later, we head out to soak in the jacuzzi with our afternoon cocktails of rum and orange juice.  A couple from Buffalo, New York is in the hot tub too, and we chat with them for a while.  They are heading to a bioluminescent bay tonight.  We wonder if we should explore that ourselves, but we never get around to it during our stay.

Later we drive to Mango’s for dinner, where it’s packed because it’s Happy Hour Tuesday.  This isn’t quite the quiet atmosphere I envisioned from our first visit here on Saturday.  We sit at the bar, where we share a bowl of the pumpkin, coconut and ginger puree soup.  I eat spring rolls with pork and plantain, a huge-portioned appetizer, and Mike orders Mahi Mahi with mashed cassava and red beans and rice.  We have Corona Lights since they’re the happy hour special.  It’s very loud and lively, and it’s fun to watch the people, mostly locals who have come by for after-work socializing.

After our dinner, we take a drive to Isla Verde, which is much more commercial than the neighborhood area where we’re staying.  We’re happy after seeing the much touted resort area that we picked our charming hotel in Ocean Park.

Today we’re feeling exhausted from all the walking we did the first couple of days, so we return to our room and watch our Tuesday night episode of Tyrant, which we’ve been following for its whole first season.  Tomorrow, we plan to drive to the south coast and Ponce.

el yunque national forest & a stop at the kiosks of playa luquillo

Tags

, , , , , ,

Monday, August 11:  This morning, Mike gets up early and walks to our local Quiznos to pick up egg and cheese sandwiches and coffee, which we polish off in our room.  Then we head to Charlie’s Rentals to pick up a Kia Rio for the next 4 days. The lady at the desk asks us if we’d like to opt in for a service similar to EZPass, which will enable us to drive through the automatic pay lanes at toll booths.  After we say we’ll take it, she warns us that the toll lanes work by photographs.  She says we shouldn’t freak out if a red light flashes or an alarm sounds, that we should just drive on through.  She says that in the end, the tolls will be communicated to the rental company and we’ll settle up when we return the car.

I never like it when alarms sound or lights flash, especially when I’m the suspected perpetrator.  Today, every time we go through a toll plaza, the red light flashes and a loud grating alarm goes off.  I tense up each time, turning around and looking to see if a police car is speeding after us in hot pursuit.  I do this every time, and Mike gets a big laugh out it.  He finds it funny that I think a police car is waiting at the ready to chase toll violators. This provides him a lot of amusement during the four days we have the rental car.

Other than the toll alarms, the drive is fairly straightforward. It takes us about an hour to get to El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest of 28,000 acres in the Sierra de Luquillo.  It’s run by the US Forest Service and has a network of signposted, short, paved and relatively mild trails.

The El Portal Visitor’s Center is a pretty cool open air building with local artisans selling arts and crafts.

El Portal Visitors Center at El Yunque

El Portal Visitors Center at El Yunque

El Portal Visitors Center at El Yunque

El Portal Visitors Center at El Yunque

Leaving the Visitor’s Center, we see some beautiful tropical flowers including this Bird of Paradise.

Bird of paradise near the visitors center

Bird of paradise near the visitors center

The first thing we encounter is La Coca Falls, an 85 foot waterfall that cascades over some boulders.  It’s right along the highway and is swarming with people.

La Coca Falls

La Coca Falls

Our next stop is Big Tree Trail, a half hour each way through tabonuco forest to La Mina Falls.  The tabonuco forest grows below 2,000 feet and receives less than 100 inches of rain.  Tall straight trees, such as the tabonuco and ausubo, tower over us, and we’re surrounded as well by epiphytes (including many orchids), flowers and aromatic shrubs of many types (Lonely Planet Puerto Rico).

Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls

Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls

The trail is paved and damp, with leaves underfoot, and what do I do but slip and fall on my butt right at the beginning.  I jump up, wiping myself off, but not quickly enough to avoid having a number of fellow walkers worry over my well-being.

Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Root systems on Big Tree Trail

Root systems on Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Ferns on Big Tree Trail

Ferns on Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Big Tree Trail

Moss covered rocks on Big Tree Trail

Moss covered rocks on Big Tree Trail

The trail is quite busy, but nothing prepares us for the crowds at the base of La Mina Falls, with its 35 foot drop. We’ve worn our bathing suits, and as it’s quite hot and sticky, we have been looking forward to dipping in the pool at the base of the falls.  However, the crowds turn us off to this idea.

La Mina Falls

La Mina Falls

We climb up a trail to the left of the falls, where I’m able to cut some of the people out of my photo.  It is quite picturesque, and we wistfully dream of having the pool to ourselves.  But alas, it’s not to be.  This is not my idea of an idyllic stop, so we traipse back along the 0.86 mile trail to the trailhead.

La Mina Falls with people cropped out!

La Mina Falls with people cropped out!

We continue driving up Highway 191, looking for the Mt Britton Trail.  We see the peak with the Britton Tower perched on top, and at first we think we’ll pass.  It looks like too much work!  Ultimately, we change our minds, and I’m so glad we do. This is the best hike in the park, not nearly as crowded, and the forest here is beautiful.

Destination: Mt Britton Tower

Destination: Mt Britton Tower

This trail is a 0.8-mile, 45-minute hike up through mid-level vegetation into the cloud forest that surrounds the peak, named after a famous botanist who worked here.

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Roots on Mt Britton Trail

Roots on Mt Britton Trail

Moss and creeping vines on Mt Britton Trail

Moss and creeping vines on Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

The trail is a continuous climb on paved surfaces to the stone Mt Britton Tower, built in the 1930s.  When not shrouded by clouds, panoramic views extend over the forest to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean.  It is shrouded by clouds today, but we still get quite nice glimpses of the mountainous landscape.

In the cloud forest, Mt Britton Tower

In the cloud forest, Mt Britton Tower

Cloud forest, Mt Britton Tower

Cloud forest, Mt Britton Tower

Cloud forest

Cloud forest

Cloud forest

Cloud forest

Mike in the Cloud Forest

Mike in the Cloud Forest

Mt Britton Tower

Mt Britton Tower

The walk through this forest is so lovely, especially with the musical serenades of the coqui frogs and the birds.  I’m so glad we did this hike.  It is the highlight of our day. 🙂

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

Mt Britton Trail

By this time we’re getting hungry, so we decide to drive to Playa Luquillo, a balneario (a Latin American seaside resort town).  We want to check out its 60 famous food kiosks.  I don’t know what I thought kiosks were, but I certainly didn’t expect them to look like storage units containing restaurants.

Food kiosks at Playa Luquillo

Food kiosks at Playa Luquillo

We walk down the sidewalk in front of the kiosks, and at each entrance, we’re invited by restaurant staff to come inside and eat.

Food kiosks at Playa Luquillo

Food kiosks at Playa Luquillo

Food kiosks at Playa Luquillo

Food kiosks at Playa Luquillo

We finally decide on Kioska Terruno (#20), where we order two Medalla Light beers.  Mike gets a small crema de platano, a plantain cream soup, which is pretty horrible and tasteless. I order a chorizo a parrilleros, or grilled chorizo.  This is our first disappointing meal in Puerto Rico.  At least the beers are refreshing. 🙂

Terruno

Terruno

Terruno

Terruno

When we return to our hotel, we go out to the beach for a bit.  I walk around photographing the cool beach grape trees and palm trees that provide a kind of buffer zone between the high rises and hotels and the wide expanse of sand.

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

Beach grapes

Beach grapes

Beach grapes

Beach grapes

Beach grapes

Beach grapes

I stroll along taking pictures while Mike goes for a swim along the length of the shore.

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

the beach near our hotel in Ocean Park/Condado

After a while, we return to the hotel, where we have rum and orange juice drinks in the jacuzzi.  This could get to be an addictive habit. 🙂

In the evening we walk around looking for a restaurant in our area.  We don’t want to drive the car into Old San Juan and fight traffic or be frustrated looking for parking.  Nor do we want to pay $35-40 for a taxi both ways. We finally settle on Bebo’s Cafe, right next door to the restaurant where we ate last night, Basilia’s.  Bebo’s is equally unattractive (brightly lit, unadorned, and bursting with boisterous Puerto Rican families).  We have a pretty good meal here at a decent price.

Mike orders a Cuba Libre, which he’s disappointed to find is just a rum and coke with lime.  I’m settling for another Medalla Light, as I’m not a huge fan of hard liquor, rum included.  I’ve only been drinking it because it’s famously produced in Puerto Rico.  I order a meal of Arroz Camarones, or shrimp rice, which I mistakenly call Paella Camarones, because the dish is listed under Paella on the menu.  Confused, our Spanish-speaking waitress brings me a seafood paella including calamari, which I hate.  This causes quite a stir, but the way the menu is written is confusing.  I really can’t eat the calamari, so I have to send it back.  Mike orders Asopao de Gandules, a thick chicken and rice soup.  We feel bad about the confusion, and the owner tries to make sure we feel plenty guilty about it, but in the end, we make up, all apologizing to each other for the misunderstanding.   We order a flan to top off our meal.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a rainy day, so we’ll have to figure out what we can do that’s mostly inside.

walking tour of san juan {part 3: the norzagaray & el morro}

Tags

, , , , ,

Sunday, August 10: After lunch at The Parrot Club, we climb uphill in the searing sun to wander along the Norzagaray, which runs along the northern ridge overlooking the Atlantic.  Looking down, we can see the faded pastel houses of La Perla, San Juan’s poorest neighborhood. It’s fun to wander the streets of Old San Juan with all its colorful and artsy buildings.

Walls of Old San Juan

Walls of Old San Juan

Pretty walls and windows

Pretty walls and windows

On the grounds of El Morro, which are quite extensive, families are out in droves, flying kites and picnicking.  Below, we can see the picturesque Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, a colonial-era cemetery that is the final resting place of many of Puerto Rico’s most prominent natives and residents. Construction began in 1863 under the auspices of Ignacio Mascaro. It was named in honor of Saint Maria Magdalena de Pazzi. (Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery)

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

We enter Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, better known as El Morro, a six-level fort with a gray, crenellated lighthouse.  The fort juts over Old San Juan’s headlands, threatening wanna-be conquerors.  The 140 ft. walls (some up to 15 ft. thick) date back to 1539, and El Morro is said to be the oldest Spanish fort in the New World. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 (Lonely Planet Puerto Rico).

Fuerte San Felipe del Morro

Fuerte San Felipe del Morro

The National Park Service maintains this fort and its small military museum.  It took nearly 200 years to build the fort, which played a role in rebuffing attacks by the British, the Dutch, and later, the U.S. military (Lonely Planet).

El Morro

El Morro

View from El Morro

View from El Morro

View from El Morro

View from El Morro

The lighthouse has been operating since 1846 (although the tower itself dates from 1906), making it the island’s oldest light station still in use today.  The lighthouse was rebuilt with Spanish-Moorish features after suffering severe damage during a U.S. navy bombardment during the 1898 Spanish-American War (Lonely Planet).

The lighthouse at El Morro

The lighthouse at El Morro

View from El Morro

View from El Morro

Flagpoles on El Morro today customarily fly the United States flag, the Puerto Rican flag and the Cross of Burgundy Flag, also known in Spanish as las Aspas de Borgoña, a standard which was widely used by Spanish armies around the world from 1506–1785.

Flagpoles on El Morro today customarily fly the United States flag, the Puerto Rican flag and the Cross of Burgundy Flag, also known in Spanish as las Aspas de Borgoña, a standard which was widely used by Spanish armies around the world from 1506–1785.

View from El Morro

View from El Morro

The School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico (Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico) is a higher learning institution engaged in the training of students in the visual arts. The school was originally founded in 1966 as part of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. (Wikipedia: School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico)

Kite flyers and picnickers

Kite flyers and picnickers in front of the School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico

The building was built as an insane asylum during the 19th century, and with its symmetrical wings, columns, Romanesque arches, porticos, courtyards and fountains, it looks more like a seat of government than a school.  Contemporary art students joke today about the mad dreams that continue to take shape within its walls (Lonely Planet).

People enjoying a Sunday afternoon

People enjoying a Sunday afternoon

Statue across from El Morro

Statue across from Campo del Morro

At the Plaza del Quinto Centenario, we pass a 40-ft totem pole which is the work of Puerto Rican artist Jaime Suárez. It is made of black granite and ceramic pieces, and is a tribute to the discovery of the New World.  The plaza was built in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World.  Rumored to have cost $10 million to build, the plaza offers great views over El Morro and the ocean.

Statue in San Juan

Plaza del Quinto Centenario

San José Church (Iglesia de San José) is one of the first significant works of architecture on the island. The church is one of the earliest surviving examples of 16th-century Spanish Gothic architecture in the Western hemisphere.  The church was constructed from 1532 to 1735 by the Dominican Order as part of their Saint Aquinas monastery. It was renamed by the Jesuits who took over the monastery in 1865. (Wikipedia: San José Church)

This church reminds me very much of churches I saw all over Portugal last year on my month-long trip through Spain and Portugal.

Iglesia de San José

Iglesia de San José

We end up walking again past the Catedral de San Juan as we make our way back downhill to the main commercial part of town.

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

We come across a shady outdoor cafe, Nadine Cafe, where an old violinist is serenading the patrons.  A sign for Mojitos beckons.  The old man leafs through a playbook that has seen better days, sighing dramatically between pieces.  He seems to be tired of performing.

a violinist & his playbook at Nadine Cafe

a violinist & his playbook at Nadine Cafe

Once we sit down, we realize he is just a wandering violinist collecting money in a cup at his feet.  He doesn’t seem to be actually employed by the cafe.  The cafe atmosphere seems very relaxed.  I take off my shoes because I’ve developed blisters on my heels, and I put them up on the empty wrought iron chair to air them out.  We enjoy sipping on our icy Mojitos and listening to the music, that is, until the waitress comes over and tells me to take my feet off the chair. Ouch.

Violinist at Nadine Cafe

Violinist at Nadine Cafe

We find out when we get the bill that these Mojitos are $9 each!  Yikes.  In their defense, they did seem to be bottomless.  I kept drinking and drinking mine and wondering why I never seemed to be making any progress.

Mojitos to violin music at Nadine Cafe

Mojitos to violin music at Nadine Cafe

Later, when I go inside to use the bathroom, I hear the waitress speaking loudly in Spanish to her coworkers about the “gringos” in an angry voice, and I hope she isn’t talking about us!  I guess it was rude to put my feet on the chair, but it was outdoors and wrought-iron, so I didn’t think it would hurt anything!

Violinist at Nadine Cafe

Violinist at Nadine Cafe

After leaving Nadine’s, we return to SuperMax, where we buy some snacks and a bottle of Bacardi Rum.  Our taxi driver drops us at Wind Chimes Boutique Hotel, the sister hotel to our Acacia Boutique Hotel, where we check out the swimming pool.  The two hotels are less than a block apart, and while ours has the huge jacuzzi, the other has a small cool water swimming pool.  As guests of Acacia, we’re able to use any of the facilities at Wind Chimes.

When we get to our room, Mike makes us some rum and cokes and we soak in the jacuzzi for a while.

back to our jacuzzi for rum & cokes

back to our jacuzzi for rum & cokes

It costs quite a lot to hire a taxi to go into Old San Juan from our hotel at Ocean Park (about $17-20 each way), so we decide tonight we will find a place to eat within walking distance.  We decide on Basilia’s, which has zero in the way of ambiance, but is packed with Puerto Rican families.  Atmosphere is seriously lacking.  The walls are a blah white, there is no artwork, it’s brightly lit and it’s loud.  But, we do have a tasty dinner.  Mike orders Caribbean Salad with shredded pork, accompanied by a Magna beer, and I go for the delicious Mofongo (mashed green plantains) with roasted shredded pork, accompanied by a Medalla Light.

Needless to say, we’re exhausted by our walk today all over Old San Juan in the blistering heat, so we crash early.  Tomorrow, we’re renting a car so we can visit El Yunque, the rain forest.

a walking tour of old san juan {part 2: castillo de san cristóbal & the parrot club}

Tags

, , , , ,

Sunday, August 10: The first thing we encounter when we climb up to the grounds of Castillo de San Cristóbal is an iguana trying, but failing miserably, to camouflage himself in the green grass.  We spend some time taking pictures of him, and he doesn’t seem at all fazed by our attentions.

Iguana on the grounds of Castillo de San Cristóbal

Iguana on the grounds of Castillo de San Cristóbal

Mr. Iguana

Mr. Iguana

camouflaged iguana

camouflaged iguana

Castillo de San Cristóbal is a fort built by Spain to protect against land based attacks on the city of San Juan. It is part of San Juan Historical Site and is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World. When it was finished in 1783, it covered about 27 acres of land and basically wrapped around San Juan. (Wikipedia: Castillo de San Cristóbal (Puerto Rico))

view of San Juan from Castillo de San Cristóbal

view of San Juan from Castillo de San Cristóbal

We spend a lot of time walking around the extensive grounds and enjoying the amazing views of Old San Juan, the Bahia de San Juan, the Capitol building, the Atlantic Ocean, and the other famous fort in San Juan, El Morro, on the western end of the city.  Being on a hill, we also enjoy a bit of a cool breeze, offset by the sun beating down overhead.

Castillo de San Cristóbal with the Capitol building in the background

Castillo de San Cristóbal with the Capitol building in the background

patina at Castillo de San Cristóbal

patina at Castillo de San Cristóbal

view of the Capitol from Castillo de San Cristóbal

view of the Capitol from Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal

Grounds of Castillo de San Cristóbal with Capitol Building

Grounds of Castillo de San Cristóbal with Capitol Building

walls of Castillo de San Cristóbal

walls of Castillo de San Cristóbal

view of the Atlantic from Castillo de San Cristóbal

view of the Atlantic from Castillo de San Cristóbal

view of Capitol from Castillo de San Cristóbal

view of Capitol from Castillo de San Cristóbal

the Atlantic from Castillo de San Cristóbal

the Atlantic from Castillo de San Cristóbal

the Atlantic Ocean from Castillo de San Cristóbal

the Atlantic Ocean from Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal is considered to be San Juan’s second major fort, after El Morro. During its heyday, it covered 27 acres with a maze of six interconnected forts protecting a central core with 150 ft. walls, moats, booby-trapped bridges and tunnels. (Lonely Planet Puerto Rico)

Looking to the west toward El Morro from Castillo de San Cristóbal

Looking to the west toward El Morro from Castillo de San Cristóbal

Construction of the fort began in 1634 in response to an attack by the Dutch a decade earlier, though the main period of expansion was from 1765 to 1783.  In 1897, seven acres were chopped off to ease congestion in the old town, and the following year the Spanish marked Puerto Rico’s entry into the Spanish-American war by firing at the battleship USS Yale from its cannon battery. (Lonely Planet Puerto Rico)

Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal

cart at Castillo de San Cristóbal

cart at Castillo de San Cristóbal

The fort became a National Historic Site in 1949 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

courtyard at Castillo de San Cristóbal

courtyard at Castillo de San Cristóbal

Cruise ship in the Bahia de San Juan, view from Castillo de San Cristóbal

Cruise ship in the Bahia de San Juan, view from Castillo de San Cristóbal

Soldiers' quarters at Castillo de San Cristóbal

Soldiers’ quarters at Castillo de San Cristóbal

Looking west from the grounds of Castillo de San Cristóbal

Looking west from the grounds of Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal

Cruise ship

Cruise ship

shady spot at Castillo de San Cristóbal

shady spot at Castillo de San Cristóbal

By the time we finally leave Castillo de San Cristóbal, we’re famished, so we head directly down the hill to the SoFo area to seek out a lunch spot.  We walk past numerous colorful buildings.

Street in Old San Juan

Street in Old San Juan

Street in Old San Juan

Street in Old San Juan

We spot this interesting character, and when we turn the corner we find ourselves at The Parrot Club.  We head inside for some cool breezes and Nuevo Latino food.

Musician outside the Parrot Club

Musician outside the Parrot Club

outside the Parrot Club

outside the Parrot Club

For lunch, Mike orders the Parrot Club Signature Quesadilla, a monterey jack & Spanish chorizo quesadilla, topped with chicken chicharrones, chile colorado sauce y queso del pais.  I want something cool, light and refreshing, so I order the Rainbow Ceviche: tuna, shrimp y mero con fresh lemon – lime juice y charred tomato salsa and plantain chips.  We also share some chicken bites with a tangy sauce on top.

Inside the Parrot Club

Inside the Parrot Club

The Parrot Club

The Parrot Club

After our relaxing lunch, we head back out into the heat of the day, and as the sun wraps itself around us, we traipse up the steep hill to the Atlantic side, so we can see the fort at the west end of San Juan, El Morro.

a walking tour of old san juan {part 1}

Tags

, , , ,

Sunday, August 10: We get an early start this morning because I have big ambitions.  We’re taking the Lonely Planet‘s self-guided walking tour through Old San Juan.  The tour starts at Pier 2, next to where the cruise ships are parked, and ends at Paseo del Morro.  It is supposed to be 3 miles long and 3-4 hours in duration.  Little do we know the tour will take us most of the day, including lunch and stops in various places, and our bodies will be aching from head to toe!

Our taxi drops us off near the pier, where we go in search of coffee and breakfast.  Our hotel doesn’t have a complimentary breakfast, so every day this will be a dilemma. As soon as we turn inland from the pier, we see again the huge U.S. Post Office, which dominates the center of Old San Juan.  It’s a reminder that we’re in a U.S. Territory.  I can’t get over seeing U.S. Postal Service vehicles and post boxes when I’m visiting a Spanish-speaking country.

The U.S. Post Office in the center of Old San Juan, a formidable presence

The U.S. Post Office in the center of Old San Juan, a formidable presence

We find a cute coffee shop, Cafe Cuatro Sombras, which means Four Shadows.  Their breakfast menu is scant, but we can order sandwiches for breakfast.  We order two black coffees (also an anomaly in Puerto Rico as most often coffee is served automatically with cream) and I get a toast with guava butter and Mike a breakfast panini with ham, provolone cheese and sweet mustard.

Inside Cuatro Sombras

Inside Cuatro Sombras

The coffee shop has an interesting history.  In 1846, Domingo Mariani arrived from Corsica and settled in the mountains of Yauco, where he established The Hacienda Santa Clara. Shade grown coffee was a common practice in those times. Although many varieties of trees were used to provide shade to the orchard at Santa Clara the most commonly used were the guaba, guamá, palo de pollo and the guaraguao; these were the four shadows (cuatro sombras) of Santa Clara.

Cuatro Sombras

Cuatro Sombras

By mid-century, Santa Clara had to close its doors like so many Puerto Rican coffee haciendas. Now a young descendant of Don Domingo brings us the coffee Cuatro Sombras from Yauco, Puerto Rico.

The coffee beans are 100% arabica.  They are handpicked in their ripe state and processed the same day in the wet mill. They are then sun-dried and stored in a climate controlled bodega until they ready to be classified by size and density. Only the best quality beans are used for the Cuatro Sombras coffee.

Coffee machine in Cuatro Sombras

Coffee machine in Cuatro Sombras

Cuatro Sombras is a single origin coffee from Yauco, Puerto Rico. In the cup it reveals a medium bodied coffee with a vibrant acidity with notes of semi-sweet chocolate, caramel and spices that contribute to a classic and clean cup.

Food truck near the plaza

Food truck near the plaza

Another food truck

Another food truck

We head back to the plaza where we dropped in on Ana Ruiz’s birthday last night and begin our walk along Paseo de la Princesa, a shaded 19th century esplanade that runs alongside the old city walls to the shore of Bahia de San Juan.

Paseo de la Princesa

Paseo de la Princesa

We see some interesting statues and metal spiked sculptures along the way, and some huge Ficus trees, their tendrils and vines encroaching on every adjacent surface.

Sculpture along the esplanade

Sculpture along the esplanade

The romantic walkway is lined with antique street lamps, shade trees, benches, statues, and fruit vendors’ stalls and carts.  Little geckos flit around on the trees and vines.

huge ficus tree along Paseo de la Princesa

huge Ficus tree along Paseo de la Princesa

Paseo de la Princesa with Raices and Bahia de San Juan at the end

Paseo de la Princesa with Raices and Bahia de San Juan at the end

At the end of the beautiful avenue is the bronze sculpture and fountain, Raices, that depicts the island’s Taino, Spanish and African heritage.  The figures rise amid a shower of cascading water.

Raices

Raices Fountain

We turn right at Racies Fountain and continue along the walkway beside the bay, seeing various fishing boats and cages, as well as the view across the bay to the Bacardi Rum Factory.

Bahia de San Juan after leaving Raices

Bahia de San Juan after leaving Raices

Fishing boats in Bahia de San Juan

Fishing boats in Bahia de San Juan

Walking from Paseo de la Princesa to Paseo del Morro: a strange spiked sculpture

Walking from Paseo de la Princesa to Paseo del Morro: a strange spiked sculpture

pretty little flower along the walkway

pretty little flower along the walkway

View of El Morro from Paseo del Morro

View of El Morro from Paseo del Morro

view across Bahia de San Juan

view across Bahia de San Juan

Frayed tree near Puerta de San Juan

Frayed tree near Puerta de San Juan

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spanish ships anchored in this bay and unloaded colonists and supplies, all of which entered the city through the tall red portal known as Puerta de San Juan, dating from the 1630s.  The walking tour instructs us to enter through this gate and walk through the city, but we decide to continue along the mile-long Paseo del Morro, which hugs the city walls to the far tip of El Morro Fort.

Puerta de San Juan

Puerta de San Juan

We see turreted guard towers called garitas carved into the thick city walls.  They are distinctive conical structures that have become symbolic of Puerto Rico and its rich colonial history.

a turreted guard tower, called a garita,  with its distinctive conical structure

a turreted guard tower, called a garita, with its distinctive conical structure

Walls of El Morro

Walls of El Morro

We see a lot of cats running around and sunning themselves on the rocks along the bay here.  According to Puerto Rico Day Trips: Help Out the Cats in Old San Juan, most of the cats around the Paseo del Morro are feral cats, which means that they are not socialized to humans. They were either born outside and never had human care/contact, or they have become accustomed to living without human companionship.

In cooperation with the National Park Service, Save a Gato provides food, water and medical assistance for these cats. They also control the number of cats in the colony. They do this by the practice of TNR — Trap, Neuter and Release.

They humanly trap the cats, neuter them (and clip the ear for easy recognition), give them their necessary vaccinations (rabies, etc), deworm them, attend to any other medical needs, and then return them to the colony. This practice provides a win/win situation for everyone — the cat population is controlled and so is the rodent population.

This little fellow isn’t too happy when I invade his space to take his picture.

One of many cats roaming the grounds of Paseo del Morro

One of many cats roaming the grounds of Paseo del Morro

View of Bahia de San Juan from the mile-long Paseo del Morro

View of Bahia de San Juan from the mile-long Paseo del Morro

El Morro from Paseo del Morro

El Morro from Paseo del Morro

El Morro

El Morro

Bahia de San Juan

Bahia de San Juan

A ship passes El Morro

A ship passes El Morro

Going, going, gone...

Going, going, gone…

Across the bay

Across the bay ~ windfarm and factory

A pregnant cat along Paseo del Morro

A pregnant cat along Paseo del Morro

Tugboats in the bay

Tugboats in the bay

tugboat in Bahia de San Juan

tugboat in Bahia de San Juan

After walking the two miles back and forth along Paseo del Morro, we finally enter the old city through the Puerta de San Juan, where we stroll through the colorful streets.

Colorful buildings in Old San Juan

Colorful buildings in Old San Juan

Colorful Old San Juan

Colorful Old San Juan

Number 60

Number 60

50 shades of green

50 shades of green

balconies in Old San Juan

balconies in Old San Juan

We come to a pretty little shaded park, Plazuela Las Monjas (Nun’s Square).  On one side of the park is Gran Hotel El Convento, Puerto Rico’s grandest hotel.

El Convento

El Convento

We poke into the hotel to check out the courtyard restaurant where we’ve heard we can have a lovely brunch, and we plan to do just that one day this week.

Inside El Convento

Inside El Convento

the courtyard of El Convento

the courtyard of El Convento

Courtyard El Convento

Courtyard El Convento

On the east side of the park is Catedral de San Juan which dates from 1540.  The remains of Juan Ponce de Leon rest inside a marble tomb here.  Also, the body of religious martyr St. Pio is displayed under glass. Sadly, church services are in session this Sunday morning, so we can’t do the tourist thing and explore the church thoroughly.

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

Catedral de San Juan

Stained glass in Catedral de San Juan

Stained glass in Catedral de San Juan

In the park outside, we find some strange little statues and people lingering on benches under gnarly trees.

Statue in the shaded square near El Convento and Catedral de San Juan

Statue in the shaded square near El Convento and Catedral de San Juan

We get a peek at the Children’s Museum through the leafy trees.

Children's Museum

Children’s Museum

We follow the cobbled streets to the bay, where we pass more colorful houses.

Streets of San Juan looking out to the bay

Streets of San Juan looking out to the bay

Spanish architecture

Spanish architecture

At the Plazuela de la Rogativa, we admire the bronze sculpture of a religious procession, representing the Bishop of San Juan and three women bearing torches.  According to legend, the candles held by the women who walked through this plaza one night in 1797 tricked British lieutenant Abercromby, who was getting ready to seize San Juan with 8,000 troops and a flotilla of more than 50 vessels, into believing that reinforcements were flooding the city from the rest of the island.  Fearful of being outnumbered, Abercromby and his fleet withdrew.  (Lonely Planet Puerto Rico)

Here we have grand vistas of the Paseo del Morro and the Bahia de San Juan below, where we just finished our two-mile walk.

bronze sculpture of a religious procession at Plazuela de la Rogativa

bronze sculpture of a religious procession at Plazuela de la Rogativa

Looking over the walls of El Morro to Bahia de San Juan

Looking over the walls of El Morro to Bahia de San Juan

Some frolickers in the bay

Some frolickers in the bay

Plazuela de la Rogativa

Plazuela de la Rogativa

El Morro and the bay from Plazuela de la Rogativa

El Morro and the bay from Plazuela de la Rogativa

We walk up to the guarded iron gates of La Fortaleza, a one-time fort that is more like a classical palace. Built in 1533, it’s the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the western hemisphere (Lonely Planet Puerto Rico).  As it’s Sunday, no tours are offered, but we plan to return here one day this week.

We see a beautiful African tulip tree on a side street.  These trees are like exclamation points of color all over Puerto Rico.

African tulip tree

African tulip tree

El Morro

El Morro

Sign for refreshing water?

Sign for refreshing water?

We then walk through the streets of San Juan until we come to the Plaza de Armas, the city’s central square laid out in the 16th century with the classic look of plazas from Madrid and Mexico.

Colorful Old San Juan

Colorful Old San Juan

Colorful Old San Juan

Colorful Old San Juan

We see a colorful kiosk in Plaza de Armas and we decide since it’s too early for lunch, we’ll stop here for a drink.

The plaza has served as a military parade ground, vegetable market and social gathering spot.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Mike sits down for a chat with the life-sized statue honoring Curet Alonso, Puerto Rican composer of over 2,000 salsa songs.  He (literally) sits at San Juan’s Plaza de Armas, in Alonso’s favorite bench spot.

A life-sized statue honoring Curet Alonso, Puerto Rican composer of over 2,000 salsa songs, now (literally) sits at San Juan's Plaza de Armas, in Alonso's favorite bench spot.

Mike shares the bench with the life-sized statue honoring Curet Alonso

I have a lemonade with orange slices and Mike a grape juice.  It’s very hot and humid today, so this is a refreshing break from all our walking.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

waiting for refreshment at Plaza de Armas

waiting for refreshment at Plaza de Armas

Refreshing lemonade with orange slices

Refreshing lemonade with orange slices

The Poet's Passage sits at one end of Plaza de Armas

The Poet’s Passage sits at one end of Plaza de Armas

We leave the Plaza de Armas after Mike stops at the SuperMax at the end of the square to buy some granola bars and bananas.  We decide it’s too early for lunch yet, so we’ll go up the hill to explore Fuerte San Cristobal before stopping at the Parrot Cafe for lunch.

 

 

buenas tardes, puerto rico!

Tags

, , ,

Saturday, August 9: We’re hit by a wall of hot and damp air as soon as we exit the airplane at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  After claiming our baggage, a taxi takes us to the Ocean Park/Condado area, where we check in with the Acacia Boutique Hotel.  We’re too early for our room, so the receptionist recommends we have lunch at Mango’s, a walk of two LONG blocks. Those blocks seem endless in our heavy-ish airplane clothes, which were meant to provide us some comfort in the freezing cabin.

We mosey up to the bar, where Mike orders a brown ale.  As I sip my first rum drink of the week, rum and grapefruit juice, we dip deep-fried fish bites into a tangy sauce, alternating with spoonfuls of pumpkin, coconut & ginger puree soup from a lopsided white bowl. Mike also has ordered red beans and rice, and I can’t resist sampling some from his plate. 🙂

At Mango's: pumpkin, coconut & ginger puree soup with rum & grapefruit juice.

At Mango’s: pumpkin, coconut & ginger puree soup with rum & grapefruit juice.

After Mango’s we head back to the hotel, where our room is now ready and we can change into our bathing suits. The Acacia Boutique Hotel is a small operation, with only 22 rooms, so it doesn’t have all amenities, but we like it just the same.

Acacia Boutique Hotel

Acacia Boutique Hotel

The lobby of Acacia Boutique Hotel

The lobby of Acacia Boutique Hotel

Buddha in the courtyard at Acacia Boutique Hotel

Buddha in the courtyard at Acacia Boutique Hotel

the indoor staircase ~ Acacia Boutique Hotel

the indoor staircase ~ Acacia Boutique Hotel

Paintings in Acacia Boutique Hotel

Paintings in Acacia Boutique Hotel

Mini-lobby in Acacia Boutique Hotel

Mini-lobby in Acacia Boutique Hotel

We walk out to a wide expanse of white sand beach lined with palm trees and beach grape trees.  A 6″ layer of wind-whipped sand makes a low-lying hazy turbulence on the horizon.  The hotel doesn’t have any beach chairs so we recline on beach towels; the blowing sand stings like hot needles and coats us like sugar cookies.  To escape the onslaught and rinse off, we bob in the gently rolling turquoise water.  A bit of Paradise!

Afterwards, we head back to the hotel and to the pool-sized jacuzzi outside our door and soak as long as we can tolerate the double dose of heated air and water.

Acacia Boutique Hotel

Acacia Boutique Hotel

Our room

Our room

Outside our door

Outside our door

the pool-sized jacuzzi

the pool-sized jacuzzi

Later, we take a taxi into Old San Juan, where we stroll around a bit.  We walk along the Bahia de San Juan and the huge Pier 1.  The sky is beautiful this evening.

Pier 1 & Bahia de San Juan

Pier 1 & Bahia de San Juan

We pass the huge U.S. Post Office, which seems an anomaly in this Spanish-speaking country; the colorful Estacionamiento Doña Fela, an artsy sprawling parking garage; squawking parrots posing with tourists for photos; restaurant folks touting happy hour specials, and tourists meandering through the funky restaurant quarter on Fortaleza called SoFo.

U.S. Post Office in San Juan

U.S. Post Office in San Juan

Parrots for photos

Parrots for photos

Estacionamiento Doña Fela

Estacionamiento Doña Fela

Estacionamiento Doña Fela

Estacionamiento Doña Fela

We put our name on the list for Restaurante Raices, which has been recommended to us by several people, and then pop into Lupi’s Mexican Grill for rum and coke with lime (Mike has a Dewar’s on the rocks).  We have a nice chat with the English-speaking bartender named Omi, who adores both American football and soccer.  As he and Mike chat about sports, I take the opportunity to snap photos.

Lupi's Mexican Grill

Lupi’s Mexican Grill

Lupi's Mexican Grill

Lupi’s Mexican Grill

Lupi's Mexican Grill

Lupi’s Mexican Grill

Omi points out a signed photo of Ed Figueroa, the New York Yankees baseball player who was the only pitcher from Puerto Rico to win 20 games in a season. He tells us that Figueroa owns the two Lupi’s Mexican Grills in San Juan.

Ed Figueroa

Ed Figueroa

Omi, our bartender at Lupi's

Omi, our bartender at Lupi’s

After our drinks we head next door to Raices, where our name is suddenly at the top of the list.  We’re surprised to see the waitresses dressed in white cotton dresses with white headwraps covering their hair; they look like slave girls.  We order Alcapurritas, typical root vegetable fritters with meat, and the famous Mofongo Relleno de Camarones al Ajilo, mashed green plantains stuffed with shrimp in garlic.  We top this off with a Medalla Light and a Magna, the local Puerto Rican beers.  This is my first taste of mashed plantains, and though they are quite heavy, I love them!  At one point the staff comes out singing “Happy Birthday,” but not to Mike or me.

Happy Birthday at Raices

Happy Birthday at Raices

After dinner, we stroll along the Paseo de la Princesa, a 19th-century esplanade that follows the old city walls to the brink of Bahia de San Juan.  At one point, I see a public toilet, which I need to use.  A husky woman blockades the bathroom door, instructs me to hand over 50 cents and orders me to stand in line.  She makes all the women in line stand up against the wall and insists that those holding water bottles place them at her feet.  She walks up and down the line, handing out wet wipes and instructing us to clean our hands BEFORE we’re admitted entry to the bathroom.  When it’s my turn to go in, she escorts me into the frilly bathroom and points out the stall I should use.

When I return to Mike, who’s been patiently waiting on a bench, I tell him I just encountered the Baño Nazi, much like the Soup Nazi from a famous Seinfeld episode. We sit and watch her in action for a bit, and we get a laugh out of the whole situation.

Returning to the Plaza Darsenas, we find that we’re interlopers at a big birthday bash for Ana Ruiz, whoever she is.  A band plays Spanish tunes, old folks dance in the square, and a woman singer serenades another woman sitting on the sidelines;  I guess she must be Ana Ruiz.  The song is so beautiful, it brings tears to my eyes, though I can’t understand a word.  It seems the whole town is invited to this party.  We’re just tourists, but no one seems to mind that we’ve joined in the fun.

In our taxi back to the hotel, the woman driver complains repeatedly and emphatically that she lost the case to her phone. “I lost the case!  I don’t know where it is!  Oh dear, my case!”  We finally figure out that these must be the only English words she knows. 🙂

a trip to the silver city of taxco & farewell to mexico

Tags

, ,

Saturday, May 26:  Today is the last day of our program, and we take a trip to the silver city of Taxco de Alarcón (usually referred to as simply “Taxco”).  The city is known for the mining of silver and other metals and for the crafting of it into jewelry, silverware and other items. This reputation, along with the city’s picturesque homes and surrounding landscapes have made tourism the main economic activity (Wikipedia: Taxco).  The only large-scale mining operation is now coming to a close.

entering the silver city of Taxco

entering the silver city of Taxco

The Church of the Ex-monastery of San Bernardino de Siena is the oldest in the area, constructed at the end of the 16th century and restored in the 19th after a fire.

the back of San Bernardino de Siena Church

the back of San Bernardino de Siena Church

The Santa Prisca Church is sits the east side of the main plaza of Taxco; it is one of the few Baroque buildings in the state of Guerrero. It was built between 1751 and 1758 by José de la Borda (ca. 1700–1778), who made a great fortune in the silver mines surrounding the town. The church is narrower than most due to the lack of flat land on which to build in the area. It is built with pink stone, flanked by two towers which are plain in the lower half but highly decorated in the upper bell portions (Wikipedia: Taxco).

Santa Prisca Church

Santa Prisca Church

Santa Prisca Church

Santa Prisca Church

Vibrations from blasts in nearby mining operations, earthquakes, and automobile traffic caused cracks in Santa Prisca’s vaults, and a restoration project began in 1997 (Wikipedia: Taxco).

In the evening, we have a farewell dinner at a restaurant where our class presents Dr. Rogowsky with a gift for all his hard work.  We eat some kind of meat with giant bones.  Dinner is accompanied by some lively Mexican singers.

Randi

Randi, Adam, ??, Jenn, ?? and Brent

Rob polishes the meat off a big bone

Rob polishes the meat off a big bone

Gifts for the professor

Gifts for the professor

Belting out some tunes

Belting out some tunes

?? and Jenn

?? and Jenn

Larry and Houcine chum it up

Larry and Houcine chum it up

more entertainment :-)

more entertainment 🙂

Sunday, May 27:  Sadly, we all fly back to the USA today to continue our studies in International Commerce and Policy in the regular classrooms at George Mason University. 😦

more business in mexico & a wild closing party

Tags

, , ,

Friday, May 25:  Today is our last official day of lectures on our Study Abroad program, and we wrap it up by making a number of visits to industrial sites.  We listen to a lecture on Doing Business in Mexico by Charles Goff.  We listen to another lecture on Developing a Strategic and Tactical Business entry into Mexico by Gabriel Haddad, former Secretary for Economic Development of Morelos.

on the grounds of our hotel before heading out to visit the industrial sites

on the grounds of our hotel before heading out to visit the industrial sites

our hotel grounds

our hotel grounds

one of our lectures

one of our lectures

cacti outside one of our lecture sites

cacti outside one of our lecture sites

We have lunch at a beautiful old hotel and we wander the lovely grounds after.

lunchtime

lunchtime

pools on the grounds of the hotel

pools on the grounds of the hotel

me in Cuernavaca

me in Cuernavaca

Asma and me

Asma and me

beautiful stepped waterfall

beautiful stepped waterfall

arches over the pool

arches over the pool

beautiful pool

beautiful pool

on the hotel grounds

on the hotel grounds

little chapel on the hotel grounds

little chapel on the hotel grounds

view of the chapel through the arch

view of the chapel through the arch

In the afternoon, we visit Emiliano Zapata Industrial Park (JMB).  The Desarrollo Industrial Emiliano Zapata is the newest industrial park, located just outside Cuernavaca in Emiliano Zapata municipality. It spreads over 23.5 hectares. One of its principal occupants is the Nu Start clothing manufacturer. Another is the Emiliano Zapata Central de Abastos wholesale food market (Wikipedia: Morelos).

We also visit the Nissan plant.  The Cuernavaca plant, 50 miles south of Mexico City, began operations in 1966 and became the first wholly owned Nissan Motor Company Ltd. overseas manufacturing facility.  Today, the Cuernavaca plant produces the Nissan Tsuru and the D21 chassis/light duty truck for the Mexican market, both of which are leaders in their respective segments.  The Cuernavaca plant has produced more than 1.4 million units in its 40-year history (Reliable Plant: Nissan’s Cuernavaca plant to manufacture Versa cars).

The group meets for a Final wrap-up, Discussion of Readings, and Research Topics, led by Professor Robert Rogowsky at the hotel.

At 7:30, we have our closing dinner at the Hacienda de Cortez.

Dinnertime :-)

Dinnertime 🙂

the singer at the Hacienda

the singer at the Hacienda de Cortez

After dinner, we go to a nightclub in Cuernavaca where we dance and party until the wee morning hours.  What a great night, in too many ways to count. 🙂

Larry

Larry

Robert

Robert

?? and Brent

?? and Brent

me :-)

me 🙂

Robert, Denise and Michal

Robert, Denise and Michal

Clockwise from top left: Brent, Randi, Denise, me, Houcine, Larry.  In the center, Robert.

Clockwise from top left: Brent, Randi, Denise, me, Houcine, Larry. In the center, Robert.

Ryan

Ryan

?? and Denise

?? and Denise

Aaron and Jenn

Aaron and Jenn