Sunday, December 22, 2013

Old San Juan: Color and Sound

I'm waking up to my last day of vacation. It's an overcast morning here in Old San Juan, and there is a new cruise ship at the dock. I've only had five hours of sleep after being up til two (I'll get to that later), but the sun is too bright to not wake up. I'm moving even easier than I did yesterday, so it's a good day!

Yesterday, I woke up feeling a bit better. Stiff but not desperately sore. We cleaned up our place and sat on the porch, soaking it in one last time. We started the drive to San Juan, seeing everything we hadn't seen in the dark on our drive out a week ago. The whole journey was complimented by a beautiful sky, mountains and hills on the horizon, and the sea shining to our right.

About half way through our journey, we stopped in Coamo to check out their hot springs. With my back being so sore, I figured a brief stop would do it some good--did it ever! We stopped at the Hotel de Los Banos in Coamo and paid $7 to enjoy their hot pool. We didn't even go near the regular pool. We sat in the water under the umbrella and just soaked. After a week of cold showers, which we didn't mind much given the heat and hiking, a hot soak was just what I needed. We stayed for around an hour then dragged ourselves back to the car.

After only one missed turn thanks to incomplete directions from the car rental place, I handed over the keys with a big sigh of relief. It's nice to no longer be responsible, to not worry about the car, to not have to figure out how to get places. Back to my own two feet, which makes me deliriously happy. I'm a very good navigator, but especially using my feet!

The cab took us to Old San Juan and our hotel Pasado San Francisco, which is right off Plaza de Colon. On the sixth floor, it has a great view looking south and west. We got here slightly early but were able to check in, drop our bags, and get out to explore.

It's hard not to fall in love with Old San Juan. It has that old world European colonial charm with its narrow cobblestone streets and little squares. Yet, it is distinctly Puerto Rican with its vibrant colors, its love if Christmas, and the music streaming from every window/bar/restaurant. Here your eyes are busy in a different way, trying to take in all its vibrant energy and color. It's also impossible to not spend a great deal of money in restaurants and shops.

We spent the afternoon eating and walking and shopping. We returned our beach house keys to the owner who lives in Old San Juan, and we visited the Cathedral just on time to see a wedding. I love spying a wedding on vacation; they seem to enchant the place a title more. The cathedral is beautiful with its gorgeous ceilings and small chapels. The remains of Ponce de Leon are buried there, which brings a bit of complicated history into the mix. I caught a cat wandering the cathedral and exiting through a gate. These wandering cats (and dogs and horses) really are a symbol of this island. We even caught one on top of a car just lounging away.

We wandered the streets and shops, spying what we might want to buy later. Then, we found a cafe, Cafecultura, for our late lunch and snack. Then we were up again, wandering and buying and snapping endless photos. As the stores started closing up, we made it back to our hotel for a little holiday snooze before going out for the night.

At 9pm the fun began with dinner at Cafe Berlin downstairs. Wow, what a delicious meal. There were like seven vegan options, but I opted for the tofu with he Puerto Rican criollo sauce. The sauce was this gorgeous mix of tomato sauce, mushrooms, and capers. There was a gorgeous mix of rice, beans, and plantains on the side. Janvier had the traditional mafongo, plantains with seafood, which she loved. I tried to eat nice and slow, but my god was it good. The waiter came to take my plate and he chuckled and said, "I guess you liked it." Every last grain of rice was gone. Unfortunately, they were out of the vegan carrot cake, which made me cry, but he assured me the guava vegan cake for tomorrow would be delicious. I might just need a to-go box to take to the airport.

We then went up the street to Noyorico, a music venue just a block away. It was recommended by a friend of Janvier's and a guy we met at the coffee shop. You can hear the music from a block away. The bar just flooded with sound and the glorious beating of drums. Wow what a sound!!! Before we could catch our breath after a few songs, their set was over and a new band was preparing. In between the sets, salsa music was dj'd and couples were flooding the floor. I had to decline a few offers to dance because my back just couldn't do it, but Janvier got out there and danced for us both! Besides, it's sometimes more fun to watch all he various moves and styles. Then, the next band was up and playing salsa music. The floor got even more crowded. Before we knew it, it was 2am and we were walking back to our hotel, the music pushing us along, my ears ringing with the drums and cow bells.

So now it's Sunday morning. There are castles and streets to explore before we catch a cab at 1:30 for the airport. With snow and ice waiting for us in Chicago, we are going to soak up as much vitamin D as possible, despite the morning shower we just watched from our patio.

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