24 March 2010

Flavors of Puerto Rico

Last week, Nate and I celebrated our 7th anniversary (a few days early) with a week in Puerto Rico. The sun shone hot, an Atlantic breeze providing an occasional respite from otherwise heavy, sticky air. We spent the first couple days wandering the blue-brick streets of old San Juan and admiring pastel-washed facades.

We strolled along the water up to El Morro, ausing for breaks from the heat under smartly placed trees.

And, finally, rested atop a grassy knoll to watch kites lift up, up, up.

From there, we spent much too long in the car and much too little in the pool/at the beach. Our trip strategy is usually the same: fly into the major city, spend 48 hours max, then head out to glimpse smaller-town life and escape the bustle. But for a small island - some 130+ miles long by 40-some wide - it required a lot of driving.

We spent a couple days poolside in a teensy, tiny B&B somewhere near Ceiba; met some Bay Area rockers in town for the Metallica show (the band's hadn't played the islands in nearly 20 years; it, apparently, was epic); hiked La Mina trail in El Yunque rain forest and took a dip below the crashing waterfall. We missed out on the trip to "el Hippy" - a local watering hole where the B&B owners and rockers went to jump of boulders into the water. I regret this and publicly apologize to Nate for not taking his lead and going with the gang.

Next up were two days devoted to Ponce - the island's second-largest city and home to a renowned art museum. Like Panama City last year, Ponce was stiflingly hot. After checking in to the lovely yet quaint, historic Hotel Melia, we hopped back in the car toward the museum. And proceeded to drive 15 minutes only to find it closed. Remodeling. For an indeterminable time. This is the first time I can recall being shut out of a planned vacation spot - and it's clearly our fault for not researching first. Still, a bummer. We instead headed back to our hotel for a scoop of "natural" ice cream (mine tasted like Strawberry Quik), took a siesta, filled out our NCAA basketball bracket, and headed out for a dinner at the swanky restaurant Lola in the adjacent Ramada (yes, Ramada. It's alot different than the ones I remember on roadtrips in the US).

After that, we were done with Ponce and ready to head back to San Juan a day ahead of schedule. En route, we tried to find a local beach on the Caribbean side. We found a speck of public beach that was enough to dip our toes into the bathwater-warm sea, but not large enough to stretch out and relax. So, back to the car, where we drove another hour or more on the main highway that parallels the sea, hoping to see a turnoff for a great playa. A few pitstops for food and sustenance later (including a roadside stand, where I prepracticed reciting my order in rusty Spanish and bravely ordered my food, only to have no idea what the vendor was saying back to me; their Spanish is so different from my gringo version!), plus a failed attempt at finding a local beach reco'd by the B&B owner (the place looked dodgy as all get-out), and we gave up. Back to San Juan for a couple more nights - including one fabulous day of nothing but swimming in the crystal blue ocean and sitting by the pool drinking Medalla and watching basketball.

Post-trip, our checkbook is a lot lighter (It's an island; most everything is shipped there, raising the cost). We are not. Puerto Ricans are known for frying much of their foods. What they don't fry is doused with a heavy hand of sugar. In some cases, like the quesito pictured below, it's both sweet and fried. Yesterday, I split my pants while crouching down to get a book off the lower shelf. Better head back to the gym after typing this.

Some sights of what crossed our palate over the week:

Tres Leches:

Flan de Queso:

Towers of fried stuff:

Post-dessert; very happy:

Swanky dinner at Lola; too bad the fish was, well, so fishy:

Delightful starter at Lola: baguette done up proper with a balsamic glaze:

Mofongo - a traditional Puerto Rican dish of mashed plantain served in a vessel then topped with meat or veggies. This one is pollo:

A heavenly bit found at Starbucks: A "quesito" - a local delicacy of flaky, crispy pastry filled with sweetened cream cheese:

Asopao - a rice stew - with a side of sangria:

1 comment:

  1. That Tres Leches looks amazing! I'm dying to go to PR...It was fun to read about your adventure!