San Juan, Puerto Rico – January 6, 2013
Our stop at Old San Juan, Puerto Rico had a couple of hiccups at the start; getting off the ship and cash. First of all, San Juan is the main start/finish point for the Caribbean Cruise we chose. That means they disembark about 3,500 people. All of those people have to go through U. S. immigration and customs. In ports of call we usually got off the ship on deck 0. When we tried this time, our cards set off an alarm. Some of the crew directed us to the forward part of the ship on deck 3. We all had to wear “In Transit” stickers since we were in transit to Barbados. That sticker thankfully kept us out of the enormous line. A crew member escorted us to an immigration station without a queue. At first, that officer did not quite understand our status, but we finally made it through his scrutiny.
From immigration, we made the long walk to the port exit. Just before we reached the door, I realized I had left most of our cash in our cabin. I was not about to go back through all of the monkey business to get back on and off the ship. Instead, I inquired about an ATM. One of the people at immigration told me there was one about three blocks away. Tyler stayed with Leslie while Hillary and I walked to the ATM. I was able to get some money out and walk back to Tyler and Leslie reasonably quickly.
We hailed a taxi to take us to Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro). That is one of several forts in and around San Juan. This particular fort is on the most northwestern part of the land that begins to form San Juan bay. That also happens to be the most northwestern part of the walled Old San Juan.
From where the taxi dropped us off, it was about one-third of a mile to the entrance of the fort. It was very windy that morning. The walk took us across a vast expanse of grass. Upon arrival, it was a mere $12 to get all of us admitted. I saw a sign noting it was a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We explored a lot of the fort; however, it is so large, and there are so many stairs, there were a lot of places we did not go. We confined ourselves to levels 5 and 6, foregoing levels 1-4. Since 5 and 6 were the highest levels, the views were amazing. We were even able to go up into the lighthouse about halfway. Anytime we were not protected by a wall or structure; we found ourselves buffeted by a powerful trade wind from the north.
El Morro is approaching the 500-year-old mark, since construction in 1539. Old San Juan had been founded some 18 years earlier in 1521. Construction on El Morro continued through 1790. About 100 years later in 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American war, Puerto Rico became a United States territory.
After our tour of El Morro, we walked into Old San Juan on what ended up as a two-mile walk. We walked mostly east until we turned south on Calle de Cristo, one of the main streets. Thankfully our stroll was all downhill.
One of the first things that struck me about Old San Juan was color. There are very vibrant colors used on homes and businesses throughout the city. The colors are not bright and loud but rather more of a muted pastel tone. I just found it quite striking.
As we started down Calle de Cristo, we walked past an old convent. A friend from Puerto Rico said that is where the television show The Flying Nun was filmed. Another block or so found us in front of the San Juan Cathedral. We did not go in because the mass was in progress. It was Three Kings Day.
Just past the cathedral, we stopped in a small store called El Galpon. Hillary bought a Panama hat. The owner had two dogs with him behind the counter; one was an older hound dog of some sort and a Chihuahua. While we were there, they both got up off of the floor to stretch and then immediately laid down again. The Chihuahua buried its nose behind the larger dog’s leg. That led me to begin talking to the owner in Spanish. I commented that we had lived in Madrid for three years. I also said Old San Juan reminded us of Madrid.
When I asked where we might be able to get a vino tinto, he directed us just around the corner to a small restaurant called Rosa de Triana. As soon as we entered the restaurant and sat in the courtyard, we felt immediately transported back to Spain. The people at the restaurant were incredibly friendly.
Leslie and I enjoyed a Spanish Tempranillo wine, something we had not had since we lived in Madrid. Hillary had white wine, and Tyler had a Mahou beer. We did not have lunch, just some tapas. We started with some Manchego cheese. Tyler had a bowl of Gazpacho while Leslie and Hillary had lamb chops. I settled on Sopa del Lintejos, a very good bean soup. We felt so at home!
After leaving Rosa de Triana, we continued downhill toward the port. We stopped in several shops along the way. In one of the shops, Leslie found a handmade ceramic cross she bought to add to her collection. When we left that store, we noticed a bit of a commotion around a white pick-up truck. The Three Kings were in the bed of the vehicle. As they slowly drove along, they tossed out small bags of candy. We snagged a couple out of the air.
At the end of Calle de Cristo, we stumbled across Parque de las Palomas. There were dozens of pigeons there. Leslie, Hillary, and Tyler got some feed and spent several minutes feeding the “feathered rats.”
Near the park was Calle de Tetuan. The buildings along the street were beautiful pastel hues. Of particular interest was the door to a skinny, yellow home. It has to be the smallest two-story home in the world!!
Once we made it back to the port area, we had to stop for our customary beer. The restaurant was all out of the local beer, so we had to settle for Dos Equis. We had some nachos as a “chaser.”
We left the restaurant and walked to our ship. Much like the morning, re-boarding was challenging as we made our way through 3,500 of our closest friends also trying to board. By continuing to inquire with port officials and crew, we were finally able to bypass the majority of the waiting passengers and get back on the ship.
For dinner that evening, we went to the Atlantic dining room. Hillary made arrangements with the wait staff for a special dessert in honor of our 29th wedding anniversary. When the time came, one of the team asked me how long we had been married. I replied 29 years. He said, “To the same woman?!” We all had a good belly laugh!
After our meal, we went back to our cabin. We all got comfortable to watch a little TV. I was out like a light as soon as I fluffed my pillow that final time!
Tomorrow, St. Thomas!