The last full day with the team from my husband’s work.
After the breakfast buffet and a quick meeting for my husband, many people from the Montréal team decided to get together to go and visit Old San Juan. We commandeered a few taxi vans and headed off there en masse. The 10-15 minute taxi ride for about 5 people cost us $24 USD. We broke up into smaller groups as some people had kids and everyone had their own list of things they wanted to see. We were about 6 people to our group. We were all to meet for lunch at Café Puerto Rico near Plaza Colôn.
Our walk wasn’t very structured and we tended to just go where the wind took us. We started down Calle O’Donnel to Tetuan then onto Fortaleza where there are many arts & crafts stores. Looking for outlet stores? Head to Del Cristo for Guess and Coach stores that offer amazing prices. There are more stores but I think most of my readers, who know me personally, are fully aware that I don’t really care about brand names.
Now, please take note! I do not condone alcohol consumption – I think we all know that. That being said, what others do is their own business. And I’m fully aware of what people like to do when they are on vacation. But please, please – if you are going to drink while on vacation, do it responsibly! Going for a day-long walking tour when it’s sunny and about 30+ degrees C plus humidity? Maybe, just maybe, you might not want to down half that 40oz bottle of rhum by 10:30 am. Perhaps you should consider bringing actual water to drink, rather than more straight-up rhum while on your walking tour. I’m just putting this out there for more health-related reasons. I’m not even going to go into a long spiel about altered behaviour while drinking such quantities of alcohol. I think it’s quite clear how I feel about that! ‘nough said!
Now, back to the fun at hand! after some shopping, we had to rush back to our starting point in order to make it fashionably late to our lunch meetup. What awesomeness did we encounter along the way? FREE HUGS!! Yes, those people that stand around, in large groups, with t-shirts saying “Free hugs!” and actually dispensing them to anyone who happens to pass by and want one. Of course, I stuck to the women, but I must say, it really is fun and quite contageous. Salem wasn’t too keep on the idea but was still suckered into a few. One of his co-workers went a little berserk and started offering some to complete strangers not even part of the group. It was actually quite funny and I think we could all use a little positivity and hugs in our lives.
It’s lunch time!
Café Puerto Rico is a 2-floor, wooden-furniture adorned restaurant that also has a terrace. Our group of about 12 people was seated upstairs. Having read up on local cuisine before we came, I had Salem and I try the mofongo – a typical Puerto Rican dish. Salem’s dish: a shrimp mofongo in a garlic sauce with a cassava (or yukka) base. I ordered the vegetarian one (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower) also in a garlic sauce with a green/sweet plantain base. Comes with salad and rice. The slightly crispy base is hollowed out a bit to make space for the filling. Mine was very good, but Salem’s was AMAZING! With tax and tip, lunch for the 2 of us was $34 USD.
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing a bit more shopping and sight seeing.
I’ll take this opportunity to say a few things about San Juan.
2- Salem and I could easily move there.
3- It made me feel even worse about things in Cuba.
Why? The buildings are (for the majority) well maintained. Of course, there are a few here and there that are a little worse for wear, but you can see that just about anywhere. The architectural style is so nice, the colours are plentiful. The people are nice, you don’t get harassed, you feel safe. I was out in full-on “tourist” mode with my camera around my neck, snapping pictures all over the place, and not once did anyone even get close to me.
Yes, we did see a few downtrodden people, again, you’ll encounter that just about anywhere you go. And yes, I am certain that there are lots of destitute people in Puerto Rico and that poverty exists, it’s just been either relegated to non-touristy areas of the country (or less touristic). But, like I said, I felt safe and no one approached me. And here’s where I’m going to come in with Cuba – Salem and I were both saddened by what we saw when we visited Havana. I think Salem may have interpreted it a bit differently than I did given the places he’s been and lived. In one sentence, I’ll sum up about how I see San Juan (or perhaps Puerto Rico) in comparison to Havana (or Cuba):
“San Juan is what Havana could’ve been”
Now, that being said, I could be totally wrong in comparing the 2 – they do have very different recent histories! But, they did have very similar histories up until a certain point and then they both went in 2 different directions. It all boils down to alliances, politics and opportunities. I won’t get into anything political (although I may have already), but I just cannot help but compare one city to the other given their striking similarities and history, but their completely different realities. And while I felt bad after visiting Havana, I felt even worse about the situation in Cuba after having seen Old San Juan.
Now, to move onto brighter things…
We topped it off with a visit to a place I hard heard about on Pier #2 – Café Cola’o. 2 double espressos and an iced coffee came out to $8 USD. Let me tell you, Puerto Ricans know coffee! My espresso was so strong that I had to add sugar twice and then a bit of my iced coffee to finish it up. Oh, and the iced coffee – that’s not milk! That’s cream! Real cream! What a treat that was.
But we couldn’t stay very late as we had the “Goodbye dinner” to get ready for. On our way back, we shared a cab with the CEO of the company and his wife – very nice people!
What was going to be a beach party turned out to be indoors given to the so-so weather forecast. That’s ok! We still had lots of fun dancing to the live band and eating from the buffet: mixed salad, tomato and boconccini salad, shrimp & crab salad, cheese platter (you know I love cheese), cold cuts (ix-nay!), asparagus salad, jerk chicken, vegetable and soy fried rice, mahi mahi, etc. Good food! And then there was dessert! Chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, pineapple coconut tarts, vanilla cake.
Salem even had a dance-off with a co-worker and we got to enjoy a performance by a traditional Puerto-Rican group. Unfortunately, the party was shut down at 10 pm – just as I was getting into it – and everyone headed off to the lobby bar to continue the party – or so we were told. I guess to some, party = sit and drink. Boring! WE went for a walk outside and ended up doing a 2-person dabké practice on the very windy beach. We went to bed around 1-2 am.