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Puerto Rico Day 4: Seafood, Shopping, and Sandwiches

Finally the rain seemed to be gone! It was the 4th of July and our plan for the day was to drive out to the seaside area of Pinones to visit the food kiosks on the beach. We walked the block to our Jeep and up to our reserved parking spot. The parking spot was a lifesaver as there was nowhere to park on the street near the apartment. But wow this was the smallest parking garage I've ever seen with hairpin turns and parallel parking!


We drove the hour or so to Pinones, in traffic most of the way. It was then I realized that I made an uncharacteristic planning mistake. I read that Puerto Rico doesn't celebrate 4th of July and that seemed to be confirmed by the lack of fireworks or anything else. But what I didn't realize is that it was still a holiday and that meant everyone would be at the beach. The roads were crowded and the beach was crawling with tourists and locals alike. We finally found a spot and walked down the hot, sandy road to the kiosks. When we arrived at the kiosks, we were overcome by a strong sewage smell. We basically walked to the end then turned right around and walked straight back to the Jeep.

We drove back towards Old San Juan getting hungrier and hungrier so we stopped off for a seafood lunch at a restaurant along the way.


We got back to the apartment with no plans for the afternoon so I decided to go souvenir shopping in town while Alex hung out there. I took some pics of town as I left the apartment and walked from shop to shop.

The colorful entrance to our apartment.

The entryway. I have no idea what the white, fluffy basket is but it looks like a bassinet.

The outside of our apartment.

The Plaza de Armas in front of our apartment.





We didn't have dinner plans so we set out form the apartment to see what we might find. There was a guy in the plaza playing Imagine Dragons on a violin!

All the building around the plaza were lit up.

We ended up at the Cave, a Cuban restaurant on the corner of the plaza, where we had the best Cuban sandwich and yucca fries I've ever tasted.

We stayed for a few drinks and the live music.


Alex helped out with the maracas.

After we got home, we walked up to the rooftop of our apartment building to see the view.

We headed back in after enjoying the quiet view to get packed up to leave for Vieques the next morning.

Posted by zihuatcat 02:44 Archived in Puerto Rico Tagged san puerto rico alex juan Comments (0)

Puerto Rico Day 3: It's a Jungle Out There

We woke up to another rainy day. We would be spending the day in the rainforest where it's rainy and humid anyway so we didn't think it would be much of an issue for us. We set off for the hour or so drive to El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest in the US forest system. At only 28,000 acres, it's small compared to other rainforests. The US forest service does NOT make it easy to visit. You can't just drive up to it. There is a small window of time exactly one month ahead where you must buy a pass online for a set time frame to enter the park. I respect that they are trying to limit visitors but this seems like not the way. Our timeframe was 8a-11a. We didn't have to be in/out during that time, we just had to arrive by that time. And we were running late.

We did decide to stop for breakfast on the way at Rico Pan Bakery where we got ham, cheese, and egg sandwiches.

We made it to the park just in time before 11a only to find out that several roads were closed due to flooding so they weren't letting people in to certain parts of the park. We decided to stick around and see what we could so we stopped at a little river to eat our breakfast.


We then decided to do a short hike down the Angelito Trail, less than a mile to/from what I assume is another section of this river.



My rainforest hair has already activated.

We get to the end and what do we find? A local playing Candy Crush by the river.

Other locals were more unplugged.



We drove further into the park and came upon a ranger station where they were checking passes. It was after our designated time but this wasn't supposed to be an issue according to the website. The ranger was an absolute jerk though and tried to tell us that we were past our time even though the park roads had been closed during our window of time. After some discussion, we were able to talk him into letting us go through. We stopped at Yokahu Tower to climb the 69 foot tower for the view across the island.









We decided to turn from there and head back to the entrance, stopping at Coca Falls along the way.

Rainforest hair looking worse and worse.

We exited the rainforest and stopped off at the zipline center just down the road. We joined a group and had a great couple of hours of ziplining thru the forest. Just as we finished, the torrential rain started again so we got out of dodge and started back towards Old San Juan. Since it was on the way, we popped into the outlet mall to visit the Polo store then went back to the apartment for a while to clean up, dry off, and chill.

We didn't have dinner reservations for the night so we thought we'd try the restaurant directly across from our apartment. It was part of a hotel. Not having a reservation didn't seem to be an issue.

Dinner was an order of chicken wings and grilled octopus.


We weren't ready to call it a night but this place wasn't it so we walked over to our hookah/empanada bar we discovered on our first night.

We hung out there for a drink or two then walked over to another bar right off the square, Red Monkey.

It was empty as well and the owner was about to close up. He kept it open for us so Alex repaid him with a couple of whiskey shots.

We detoured on the way home to walk by the waterfront.


Alex was hungry when we got back so he took his fancy Marmalade leftovers from the night before and ended the night with a ramen concoction.

Posted by zihuatcat 18:49 Archived in Puerto Rico Tagged san puerto rico alex juan Comments (0)

Puerto Rico Day 2: Weather Woes in Old San Juan

We didn't get a whole lot of sleep. I loved our little apartment. It felt authentic and was right in the center of Old San Juan, just off a main square called Plaza de Armas. But with that came a lot of noise...people yelling in the streets after the bars closed, in the morning going to work, garbage trucks, and just street noise in general. This particular morning also brought dreary rain. We planned to do our own walking tour of OSJ. The rain was a letdown but we forged ahead to see how far we'd get. Turns out it wouldn't be far.

We walked from our apartment down to the first stop, Castillo San Cristobal, one of two forts in OSJ. Cristobal is the largest fort the Spanish built in the Americas and it was completed over a period of 150 years in 1783. The fort helped to defeat a British attack in 1797 and in 1898, the first shot was fired from a cannon here against US navy ships which entered Puerto Rico into the Spanish-American war. Six months later, Puerto Rico became US territory after the end of the Spanish-American war. Cristobal remained an active US military base during WWII and until 1961 when it became part of the US National Park Service.



Map of OSJ. Cristobal is on the north side of the island on the east side of OSJ.

Inside the fort. The yellow building contains an altar and the white building houses barracks and access to the roof artillery.



The main plaza of the fort where troops performed drills

View of the eastern edge of OSJ from the top of the barracks


Alex walking under the US flag, Puerto Rico flag, and the Cross of Burgundy (Spanish military flag)

View looking west from the top of the barracks

You can see the first fort built in Puerto Rico in the late 1500s, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, on the northwestern edge of the island. The colorful buildings just below is a neighborhood called La Perla and that's where we were headed for lunch.

On the way there, we passed by the basketball court built by Carmelo Anthony, a native Puerto Rican and NBA player.

We had to walk down into La Perla which is not advised at night but relatively safe during the day. I felt fine going with Alex but probably wouldn't have gone otherwise. He did get asked if he wanted to buy some weed. :) La Perla is basically a shantytown with houses built on top of each other. The neighborhood was built around a slaughterhouse in the 1700s. During that time, slaves were not allowed to live inside the city walls so they built their houses here. La Perla was very hard hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and the slow disaster response was brought to national attention when the video for "Despacito" was filmed there later that year. To be honest, the entire neighborhood looked like an electrical hazard and fire waiting to happen. We made it safely to La Garita, a seafood restaurant on the outer edge of La Perla with a view overlooking the neighborhood.

I ordered a drink that matched the colorful houses.

For lunch, I tried the local specialty, lobster mofongo (mashed plantains)

Alex had the stuffed snapper

This turned out to be the best meal of the entire trip.

The torrential rain started just as we were finishing lunch. We wanted to walk next door to the Morro fort but we were getting soaked even in raincoats and umbrellas. So we walked BY the fort and called an Uber to take us back to our dry apartment.

Next door is the Santa Magdalena Cemetery which dates back to the 1800s and is the resting place for many famous Puerto Ricans.

Our Uber finally arrived and we retreated back to our apartment to wait out the rain.

By late afternoon, it was just drizzly instead of a downpour so we walked a couple of blocks to check out the Coach store and then drove to a Walmart to get some supplies. The Walmart was a two-story store and the escalator was flat for buggies. I thought this was the coolest thing and don't understand why we don't have that here at home, especially in airports. I have literally never seen this anywhere else.

Finally the rain cleared out and we got dressed for our fancy dinner at Marmalade. I took a selfie on the balcony and didn't realize I was putting on a show for the diners across the street. They yelled out to me when I snapped the pic which made me smile.

Marmalade was a short walk away so we arrived for what would be a five course dinner. Alex started with the Ahi Tuna Tartar which was made Moroccan-style.

I started with the "popcorn shrimp" which was actually grilled shrimp with popcorn pieces. It was my favorite course.

The second course was chef's choice and that was a white bean soup with mushrooms.

For the third course, Alex got scallops.

I got a homemade pasta but I can't recall the protein involved. I do remember that it was very rich and earthy tasting.

For the fourth course, Alex got a seafood risotto.

I had the beef tenderloin.

We still had the dessert course left but we were stuffed. Alex boxed up most of the fourth course already so we had them box up dessert for us and we took it home for later.

We were full and tired so we fell into bed hoping to sleep through the noise.

Posted by zihuatcat 23:29 Archived in Puerto Rico Tagged san puerto rico alex juan Comments (0)

Puerto Rico Day 1: Weather Woes on Travel Day

The day started early. Very early. 4a early. We were up and headed to the airport by 5a for our 7a flight. I was closely watching the weather as there was a tropical storm moving into PR as well as bad weather in the forecast for Houston. I wouldn't have been worried if we were flying directly from Dallas but I was using COVID cancellation credits on United so we had to go thru Houston first. We got thru security fine and I grabbed some pretzel donuts for a snack. We were planning to grab food on our Houston layover. Things went well at first. We boarded and were just about to take off when the pilot said they had grounded all flights in Houston due to lightning. We only had an hour and fifteen minutes in Houston to begin with so the longer we sat there, the more I was convinced we wouldn't make the flight. I'd already found one more flight out of Houston later that day if we had to reschedule. Luckily we were only delayed about 45 minutes so we were able to make our connection without an issue. That did mean, however, that we didn't have time to get food. I ordered some snacks on board the flight but they were seriously lacking in fulfillment.

We arrived to a beautiful, sunny afternoon in PR. Thankfully our luggage made the short connection and we picked up our rental Jeep and drove to our apartment in downtown, Old San Juan. Our apartment came with a parking spot about a block away so we hauled our luggage down the street and up to our 2nd floor apartment.






We set our luggage down and Alex was STARVING. Just around the corner from our apartment was a Wendy's and we made a beeline to go there for anything that could keep a migraine or sugar drop from starting. We stood in line forever but finally got some chicken nuggets and fries which we scarfed down on a bench just outside. We went back to the apartment to relax for a bit and one of us relaxed a little too much.

I had made dinner reservations but didn't want to wake Alex so I canceled them. When he woke up, we decided to go to a little empanada bar, Dehistoria, around the corner for a drink and some snacks.


These were the strangest looking empanadas I'd ever seen but they were pretty good. We shared an assortment of flavors and had a couple of drinks before walking back to the apartment. Around 11p or so, Alex was hungry again (we hadn't really eaten a full meal all day) so off we went again to try and find a place with food. Pickings were slim at this time of night even on a Friday. We finally found a hookah bar serving....you guessed it....empanadas. These looked much more like what I'm used to and according to Alex, tasted much better as well.

Here they gave him loads of homemade hot sauce, too.

We stayed for a couple of drinks then walked home to fall in bed after the long day.


Posted by zihuatcat 22:09 Archived in Puerto Rico Tagged san puerto rico alex juan Comments (0)

San Antonio: Feliz Navidad del Rio

Since my mom and I moved to Bandera in 1985, every Friday after Thanksgiving she has mentioned wanting to go to the San Antonio River Parade. We've watched it on television most years but never been. So this year, for her 65th birthday in December, I wanted to take her and make it a special night. I reserved a hotel room with a balcony on the parade route almost a year in advance. I made dinner reservations for after the parade. For the next morning, I booked facials and foot massages at a spa on the Riverwalk as well. It would be a lovely mother-daughter event.

Mike and I and the dogs normally travel to Bandera every year for Thanksgiving. Because Mom and I had plans of our own this year, he decided to stay home and spend the day with our good friends instead. So I flew down on Thanksgiving morning and we had our traditional dinner and day of football. The next afternoon, Friday, Mom and I drove into San Antonio and checked into the Hilton Palacio del Rio on the Riverwalk. Downtown was a bit of a madhouse. Hotels had been sold out for months and everyone was trying to arrive at the same time to check in.


It took us a while to figure out how the elevators worked. I've never seen a keypad to call the elevator.


We finally made it to our room.



It had an excellent view of the river.


Since our dinner reservations were late, Mom brought along some snacks for a little pre-parade picnic. We had olives, carrots, celery, pimento cheese, Boisin cheese (the best cheese EVER), crackers, pickled okra, and deviled eggs.


It got dark and we waited for the parade to start....with our noodle hair on.


Soon the boat floats began arriving.








And the finale - Santa and Mrs. Claus, of course.


The parade lasted about an hour. Once over, we walked down the River to Boudro's Texas Bistro for dinner. Mom started with a prickly pear maragarita and I tried a strawberry caipirinha. These were paired with guacamole for two, made tableside.


My entrée was lobster tail, shrimp, and crawfish etoufee with a risotto.


Mom's entrée was shrimp and fried fish over rice.


After dinner we walked along the river for a while and then headed back to our hotel to retire for the evening.


The next day we had a relaxing time at the spa and a tasty lunch at the Mokara Hotel and Spa before I flew home. Happy Birthday Mom!

Posted by zihuatcat 14:36 Archived in USA Tagged san antonio mom riverwalk Comments (0)

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