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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂