Greeted by a disappointing and unexpected rain, we arrived in San Juan late afternoon. My heart sank, imagining the worst: the trip that was 20 years in the making, that we saved for, calculated, contemplated and confabulated for a year and a half, was going to be a total wash out–it was hurricane season in the Caribbean, after all! Neither Tad nor I voiced our concern, but not mentioning it screamed volumes. All of a sudden the money we saved for booking during the off season didn’t seem like such a good idea at.all.
We milled around baggage claim for a dozen mini-lifetimes, weary from our day of travel but excited about seeing the hotel we had only read about. At a minimum, we knew it was highly rated, so if a monsoon hit, we could entertain ourselves there.
Neither one of us speak Spanish; we were minority minnows in an Hispanic sea. The conversation of others, little more than hypnotic white noise, left me wondering what I would’ve been hearing had I been bi-lingual. That amused me and passed the time, so I privately constructed my own interpretation of what they were saying–my favorite couple to people-watch was the tall, young, sleek, sophisticated black model accompanied by the shorter, older, sharply-dressed man (who alternated between groping her, whispering in her ear, and assuming various yoga positions in a nearby chair while SHE awaited their luggage).
Soon enough, we had our suitcases in hand. With the help of a local tourist official who could spot us as if we were tattooed with a big "I ain’t from heer" across our foreheads, we hailed a taxi and were on our way.
As the rain subsided and blue skies peeked through the clouds, my spirit brightened.
Our Puerto Rican cabbie spoke VERY broken English, but that didn’t stop him from acting as our personal tour guide/entertainer…Oooooh, how I wish I understood everything he tried to tell us (Tad seemed to interpret Spanglish better than I did…or at least he faked it better). One thing is for certain, our driver had p.r.i.d.e. in his homeland, and whether or not we understood what he was saying, his enthusiasm was infectious.
He pointed out various points of local interest, suggested "must-sees" in Old San Juan, and drove us by the convent where "The Flying Nun" was filmed. His funniest commentary was as we passed what he referred to as the local "drug store". I was craning my neck for the familiarity of Wal-Mart or CVS; instead, we passed a series of dilapidated buildings…which, as it turns out, was the drug store in question. He told us the dealers were "very friendly and wouldn’t hurt us…they just wanted us to buy their drugs". We opted not to visit (I had Advil AND Tylenol in my purse, thank-yew-very-much).
We arrived at El Convento and had the good fortune of meeting Gregory, a bellman who spoke English VERY well; he was a wealth of information. We took a page out of Rachael Ray’s book and asked him to direct us to a place the locals dine–we didn’t want anything touristy or high-end.
An appealing aspect of Old San Juan is that it’s a walking city–it’s safe, streets are well signed, maps are accurate, and when all else fails, you can eventually find someone to ask who speaks English. We followed Gregory’s directions to (WHERE DID I PUT THAT MENU WITH THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT ON IT?) and it was definitely "local". With some guidance from Gregory, we asked Louis-the-waiter to choose our dinner for us: I think we ended up with pork tamales, beef and onions and mofungo, it reminded me of "diner meets Puerto Rico". Our meal tasted fine, but the experience of the meal was delicious (Louis also flooded us with enough information about the city to keep us occupied for days!).
Unfortunately, all the pictures we took the first night are with our point and shoot (with a broken flash) and leave much to be desired; the memories still linger, though.
After dinner, we started walking toward San Juan Bay; because our pictures are marginal, I’ll share just a few:
Along the bay, the street was alive; we happened upon a party where it looked like people just showed up–the festive atmosphere compelled people to sing and dance–
Our daytime Old San Juan walking tour is next, and in that post, I’ll be using our SLR. Can’t wait to share those pictures (and I promise, I’ll let them speak more than I write…!). You’ll be booking a tour to Puerto Rico lickity split AND you’ll know a whole lot more than we did before you go!