Puerto Rico Part 2: Party tips and more food

I’m jumping around a little bit because I wanted to give the food tour its own post. Let’s back up to the beginning. My cousin and I went on this trip because we are both turning 30 this year. This was a gift to ourselves. When we arrived in the evening, we were starving so unfortunately had dinner at the hotel café. I had a chicken rice soup that reminded me congee.  Or maybe a soup form of yellow rice. I think I could have eaten anything with this view and be satisfied though.

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We finished dinner around 8:00 pm and we were going to head into Old San Juan and do some partying because it was Friday night. We asked the door man for suggestions and he said “If you already ate dinner, why you go to Viejo San Juan? Everything will be closed!” I was surprised, but we took his word for it. He sent us La Placita in Santurce, which was kind of like a Bourbon Street atmosphere – one big block party of drinking and dancing. It would have been more fun except that the majority of people were age 50’s and up, and also 80% men. I bought a fritura from a street vendor who told me it cost $1.25, but didn’t give me change when I gave him $2. I wasn’t about to make a scene but it was off-putting.

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Finding it hard to make friends or figure out what to do, we had one round and went back. I was annoyed at the doorman’s recommendations and the $30 round trip cab ride it cost. He could have told us to walk 2 blocks away from the hotel and we would’ve had our pick of bars & places to hang out; we just didn’t know that stuff was there. We went back to the hotel and hung out at the pool until we were ready to pass out.

Party tip #1: La Placita/Santurce on a Friday night was old people.

Party tip #2: If you are staying in Condado, everywhere you want to go is going to cost $15 in cab fare.

Every taxi cab had a meter; there were even meter rates posted yet no one ever used it. There is only one taxi company. It cost $17 to go from the airport to the hotel, yet the return trip cost $19. I hated getting a different price every time and not knowing the reason.

The next morning we did our food tour of Old San Juan, which you already heard about.

Party tip #3: Take a Spun Food Tour.

After the tour, we did some shopping and exploring on our own before catching the ferry over to the Bacardi Factory. The tour was underwhelming and honestly not worth the effort it took to get there but it’s just one of those things you have to do or else your friends will think you’re lame. Luckily the journey home was much easier because we met a couple who were staying at the same place, so we split a cab from Bacardi back to the hotel.

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So Party tip #4: If you have at least 4 people, just hire a taxi to take you to Bacardi. Grab a new taxi when you’re ready to go back. It will cost a total of maybe $70 divided by 4 people, which is cheaper than tour companies who charge $35-$50 per person; it is also cheaper and much easier than the usual DIY route of taking a cab into old san juan, take the ferry, take another cab to the factory, and do the whole thing again in reverse.

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I finally got my husband his one year anniversary gift: a bottle of Bacardi Reserva Limitada, which I had custom engraved with a love note. It came with this certificate of authenticity. I’ll put in his Ph.D. frame as a placeholder.

After that journey, we took a nap and then had dinner in Condado near hotel. We started with ceviche & tostones, and for dinner we shared the “can can” pork chop with rice, beans, and maduros.
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The waiter seemed amused and even commented that we had “very Hispanic” tastes in foods. Dude, we’re in San Juan and it’s on your menu; why is it so surprising when someone orders it? Does that speak to the types of people that visit? The restaurant was lovely, the people were lovely, but I’ve had this meal better at places in the US. I kind of knew before walking in that it wouldn’t be so great.
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But again, with this view from your dinner table I’d eat anything. Even cucumbers.

The next day, we woke up wicked early for our rainforest tour. Right away it started off on the wrong foot. As we got in the van, the guide said we owed a different amount than what I discussed with the owner on the phone. Then he tried to say “Come on, it’s only $14”, which irritated me. He eventually got the boss on the phone and we continued on our way. He wasn’t that great of a tour guide regardless. The people in the back of the van probably didn’t hear anything he said; I would have been pissed if I were them.
The rainforest though, was amazing as one would imagine. Everything was giant-sized. Unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of good pictures because it rained a lot. Imagine that.
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There was so much to look at and listen to, and so many things I had never seen. There weren’t really any animals, but even the types of foliage were amazing to look at. I did see a blue iguana (video), and touched this crazy plant. I loved the fact that the rainforest is a US National Forest. It’s kinda like, cool, this is “ours”. I have heard about how in less developed countries, residents sometimes end up destroying natural resources in an effort to capitalize on tourists, at least I can visit this national forest with less of a guilty conscience.
In a genius move by the tour company, we were dropped off at a higher point in the trail and hiked about 1.5 miles mostly downhill and he picked us up on the other end. There were some uphill portions, including the last half mile stretch but finishing on an overall lower elevation made life better.
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For lunch I had this fried thing – piononos. I have eaten something similar in a casserole form: layers of plantains and ground beef. It’s like they took the casserole but then sliced it and deep fried it.
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We had dinner at Cafe Puerto Rico, where I saw my first sign of vegetables. I had the mofongo made with yucca and filled with shrimp and garlic sauce. Mofongo is a popular dish, typically mashed plantains made into a bowl and filled with something. This one was made with yucca instead of plantains. When I had read the description, I didn’t realize that they also deep fried the “bowl”; I don’t know if that’s typical. I just learned that there is a restaurant close to where I live that has a whole menu section of mofongo.

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This final dinner was perfect. We got to sit outside with a view of a square and a fountain, with the smell of cigars in the air, a cool breeze, and a friendly cozy restaurant atmosphere. I even got to eat tres leche cake for dessert. I totally forgot about tres leche cake. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to our trip.

I was disappointed that even though they try to hype rum as part of their identity, I had a hard time finding something that was “special”. Wiki lists the types of brands that are produced in Puerto Rico, but in stores I only saw Bacardi or Don Q. Granted, I only had like 2 days there so I didn’t make it very far, but the duty free shop at the airport had most exotic selection of rum.

I came home with these three bottles. I think I chose well because they taste distinctively different. The Barrilito Three Star was an insane buy at $21 and it tastes so much more expensive.

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Rum tasting: Caliche, Barrilito Three Star, Bacardi Reserve

If you live in the San Juan area and want to get in on the tourism action, I have an idea for you: open a small shop selling only specialty Puerto Rican rums. It doesn’t even have to be large; even a tiny apothecary-type place would be really cute.
Party Tip #5: Open a rum shop.
Step 1) Curate a shop.
Step 2) Put it where tourists go.
Step 3) Profit.
While some parts of this post makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy my trip to San Juan but that doesn’t mean I won’t go back. Old San Juan was beautifully preserved and I need to see that rainforest again. The tourist areas were very safe, and 95% of the people we met were very sweet. Massachusetts and Rhode Island people are not known for their friendliness; I was taken aback by how nice the people of Puerto Rico were.  Once, we were walking at night and a guy asked us if we were lost, and I genuinely believe he wasn’t going to murder us.
Throughout the trip I think I just had a string of bad luck and I let it get to me. Plus I wasn’t there long enough to get into the groove of things.  If anyone wants to invite me back and show me a proper visit, let me know!
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