I don’t ever need to go back to Condado beach. After seeing a little more of San Juan, specifically Old San Juan, there’s no justification for going to Condado, and now I also know why the room in the big hotel chain was so cheap. Don’t let them fool you with the whole “There’s a casino in the hotel” advertising. The casino is a sweaty little room full of slot machines, closed in by brass cage like bars and full of people who don’t like the sun. Definitely not what I came to Puerto Rico for.
This morning after a shower and a shave, we took a cab up to Old San Juan. It was funny how close we actually walked to the old city the day before. We had quit and turned around maybe two blocks away, and ended up inside a little rum bar called “La Bahia Tropical“. Inside we met a bartender named David, who introduced us to a local drink called Chichaito. Basically it tasted like Sambucca, a licorice or anise flavored liquor that really packs a flavor punch. A lot of people are turned off by licorice, but I like it, and had a few, along with a handful of the local light lager, Medalla light. Here’s a shot of the moment, in the sun and humidity, where I finally felt relaxed and had a nice beer in front of me. David is in the background with some customers, and this is in the plaza directly behind the Capitol building. It was extra nice being able to drink outside, listening to the bar’s music blaring with a cold beer in hand. This was our first real bar time, and it was really nice. Don Q rum in everything. Limes.
Earlier in the day, somebody recommended a place called Raices for lunch, and we made our way there for today. Raices was awesome. I felt bad at having judged mofongos by the ones we had in Condado. These were magic, way better made, and a lot more flavorful. Also much bigger. I had one wrapped in skirt steak, and stuffed with shrimp, and it was amazing. We also had a giant pitcher of awesome Sangria, and it was extra cold in the aluminum cups and pitcher. Very sweet, very refreshing, and great little restaurant. Jonesy fell in love with the local traditional garb, and the waitresses in the white hair wraps laughed when he tried his Spanish on them. They were all sweet, the food was awesome, and it was good to be in the old city. Jonesy had a mountain of something or other, no doubt some fried plantain starch served fried with a sauce. (Upon editing and further inspection, this is where Jones battled the giant pork chop known as a can-can) A metric fuck-ton of food, and while the place was a bit commercial, there were also plenty of locals having their dinner there, and that was very encouraging.
After our enormous lunch we were full and wanted to walk it off, so we took off and just went wherever looked nice. We saw the Governor’s Mansion, which had a street that led out from it, that used to be used as the main Horse Racing track. I couldn’t imagine hauling ass on a big ole horse, down these narrow cobblestone streets, with people screaming and betting on either side. . .
On our walk, we came across a cool old church, with a nice little plaza in front. There was a garden with benches, and on those benches was this fellow, who we listened to for a while.
We talked to him and figured out that what he was playing was, to him, a more carribean type of merengue music, mixed in with some folky salsa type of “musica tradicional”. He said they called him El Moreno, and we hung out with him for a while, he willing to teach, and us standing around loving it. Some of his tunes even had that weird Paul Simon type groove to them, like a weird seldom explored type of ska, or Caribe, called Mereng, as opposed to the more familiar Merengue. It was all in there, all whipped together with different feels and rhythms that I loved. The beats were simple and tight, upbeat, without being bright, still dark and Creole from El Caribe . Criollo.
After our music lesson we walked up to el Castillo San Felipe del Morro and explored the site. The entry fee was around six dollars, and was definitely worth it.
Here’ an album of pics from the fort. Toward the end of this album, the pics with the old graveyard next door are among my favorites. Especially the ones with the neighborhood “La Perla” showing in the back. We were warned away from this area, and I hope to steer clear at all times. No need to be unnecessarily bold out here.
We really got to walk all around the fort, and the site was awesome. There were slots for so many cannons, it must have been brutal trying to cruise up to this island under an enemy flag.
We also walked around the outside, and got to see some gigantic iguanas hanging out in the nooks and crannies. We ended up walking again for most of the morning, and we were pretty thirsty. I had read about a little brewery in old San Juan called Harbor. It was pretty decent, they made a pale ale that was really light. Too light. When I made the lightest beer I’ve ever brewed, it was similar to their regular ale. A little too pale for an everyday beer.
I didn’t try anything else, and we walked back up the street to find a real bar. We walked past several little obvious tourist traps, full of people fresh off a cruise ship that had pulled into harbor. I couldn’t help but think that I looked the same as them to the real locals, but still tried to somehow separate myself from them.
This was accomplished by drinking in the the types of bars where the average tourist wouldn’t dare. The kind of bar where you keep small bills in your shirt pocket to pay quickly and in cash. Not a lot of eye contact, but lots of music and strong drink. Most everything on the island seemed to cost one US dollar if you knew where to look for it, and most every place we went to had a mom and pop feel to it, which I enjoyed thoroughly.
This one little place in particular seemed way out of place so close to the hardcore tourists. I don’t even recall a bar sign, or a name of the business posted outside, we just walked by and knew it was a bar. People staggering out, music blasting, and no apparent food service, but a big crowd. Once inside, the simple wooden bar greeted you, with the chips and peanut bag stands behind it, and a couple of locals tending the bar.
All the shots come in little plastic cups, like what we use for salsa up here in CA. We kept coming back to this drink called Chichaito, this particular one was flavored and made with coconut. It was called Coquito. I like coconut anyway, but this stuff was amazing.
Funny thing was, I asked where I could buy a bottle of it, and the bartender told me it was a type of moonshine. He said it was “hecho en casa”, or home made. Then he said (in Spanish) “There he goes now” and pointed me to a fellow in a coat, which was weird for the weather, but I wasn’t asking questions.
Before I knew it, I had struck a deal with this guy Jorge, the Coquito maker, to buy a bottle off him tomorrow, and that it would be $20. I got his phone number, and he asked me to call him to make sure I was going to need the bottle. I assured him I’d buy it, but I would call anyway. We had already checked into our room earlier in the day and we needed to head out though, good day sir.
We got a room in the Hotel “Casablanca”.This place sounded Spectacular, and the lobby was fairly decked out. I couldn’t wait to see what type of luxurious room we had for the day. When we got to the room, there was only one bed. There wasn’t another bed available, not even a cot or anything, so I will sleep on top of the blankets, and Jonesy underneath them. The cieling is really high, almost vaulted, but the room is stupid narrow, and there’s no room around the bed for anything. This is the room the hotel sacrificed to young couples or something. It was really, really small is my main point here. We curled up on the too small bed and kept our distance. Our manhood intact, we went to bed early, and made plans to hit the cathedrals the tomorrow. We are running out of things to do here in town and need to figure something out. This place looked spectacular, but the AC isn’t working right,and it’s hot and humid, and this tiny bed, etc. . . .Also, Jonesy has been drinking non stop since we got here, and if I know him, he’s just building up steam. I’m fairly buzzed from the divey bar, bought some tylenol after the bar.