A Travellerspoint blog

Arecibo Observatory

31 October 2016

sunny 85 °F

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We say goodbye to the Ceiba Country Inn and point our tiny rental car toward the west coast and Rincon known for its good surfing. In an attempt to find something to do enroute I find the Arecibo Observatory that is the largest radio telescope in the world. Or it used to be before China opened an even larger one. It was a 2 hour and 15 minute drive from hell to get to this place. Even my Lonely Planet book mentioned it was only a nine mile drive off the main road but it would feel like 90.
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But it actually turned out to be worth it and pretty interesting. The huge telescope has been the setting for several movies to include Contact and James Bond’s Goldeneye. The guided portion includes a short movie on the making of the observatory and a talk by one of the guides. She informs us that Pierce Brosnan was unable to do the stunts on the catwalk over the reflector due to his suddenly realized fear of heights.
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This radio telescope is different because it is the only one with researchers concentrating on three aspects of science; radio astronomy, atmospheric science and radar astronomy. It took over three years to build in the 50’s and currently goes strong 24 hours a day. The biggest damage to the dish comes from falling branches, leaves and the maintenance workers have to wear a special pair of shoes to ensure they don’t damage the panels. The whole dish is made up of hundreds of connected panels.
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Puerto Rico was chosen as the site because it was being built with DOD funds and thus it was still in the United States, the crater in the limestone was already there so money would be saved on construction and it was as close as they could get to the equator.
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After the tour there are some interactive exhibits and pieces of Mars, the Moon and asteroids you can have a look at. Luckily they also have a small food stand selling chicken strips and fries because the drive on to Rincon was another two hours.
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By the time we pulled in to Travelling Palms Villa we were ready for a drink. Clemente and his dog Gidgie were ready to provide just that in his tiki bar by the pool. By far these were our nicest digs so far. I found it on VRBO and rented the large apartment but we happen to have the whole house to ourselves for two nights.
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He gives us some nice dinner recommendations and off we go to Villa Cofresi for sunset and cocktails. They are famous for El Pirate or a special concoction of alcohol within a coconut. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great for sunset watching even though we had a front row seat over the ocean. For dinner I try the asopoa with lobster which is a stew popular for helping hangovers.
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Posted by ErinDriver 12:51 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

El Yunque National Park

30 September 2016

sunny 85 °F

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After a quick bite of cereal with Lucy Curt and I are off on the 45 minute drive to El Yunque.
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I have not heard a single bad thing about the park which holds the only rainforest in the United States. First stop is the visitors center for map, info a short hike and a take-out sandwich for a picnic later on.
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We see this tree that appears to be growing over or out of this tree.
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These huge snails are on many of the trees, branches, and leaves.
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Our first of several stops is Coca falls. It is right along the road and we would have photos just as good if we had stopped the car for a few seconds right next to it.
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The next stop was Yokahu Tower for a lookout over the rainforest from the top of the tower. From here it is possible to see lower as well as the highest peaks.
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The Big Tree Trail is one of the routes to La Mina Falls which seem to be one of the hot spots for the northern section of the park.
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There turns out to be a ton of people all over the rocks and in the pools around the falls so we just reverse direction and take the hike back to the car.
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A little further down the road we find a picnic spot in what seems to be an abandoned shell of a building with picnic tables and an old fireplace. It feels like we are in an Indiana Jones movie as we eat our club sandwiches. It was advertised that there would be nothing to eat once we truly entered the park but this turned out not to be true with several options along the way.
Next up on the agenda was the trail to Mt. Britton lookout. This is a bit more uphill and starts to get real. The lookout here gives us a view of the other peak that looks not that far away 
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We decide to attempt going all the way to El Yunque Peak. By the time we get to the lookout the clouds have moved in and we don’t get much of a lookout. It now feels even more like an Indiana Jones movie. For the return down we end up behind three other people who don’t seem to want to let us pass. Even when we were in the middle of their little pack they still just chattered on and failed to notice our attempts to get by them. Eventually we succeeded and we ended with a time of 1.5 hours up and 1 hour 10 minutes down.
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By this time we are ready for some beach laziness and El Yunque is not far from Luquillo beach so we spend a few minutes cooling off in what feels like bath water.
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The beach was right behind the kiosks so this time we went in search of something with lobster in the title. At La Yola we were charmed by the guy sent out to lure in customers. I think we both agreed that the two pound lobster stuffed with shrimp and skirt steak with their special sauce was the best of the entire trip.
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The most ironic part of the whole day is that we spent it in the RAINforest and it was the first day of our whole trip that it DIDN’T rain.

Posted by ErinDriver 12:33 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

To the mainland for more food

29 August 2016

sunny 85 °F

Cookies are for breakfast and there is no plan other than to hang out waiting for our 1230 flight. I sit out on the patio reading and end up watching what was either a courting demonstration or a fight for territory. Two little lizards put on quite a show.
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Before I knew it Curt was coming to tell me he got a text from the airline wondering if we could come at 1100. That worked perfectly for us so we strolled the five minutes over to the airport where they weighed our bags and off we went.
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The thirty minute flight on the mini-plane was over quickly and we were at the Budget rental car place getting ripped off again. Of course most roads in Puerto Rico are toll roads and we were told we would get a bill in the mail when we got home for our tolls. We would also be charged $19.75 for a started card to go through the speedy lanes.
My goal in booking the Ceiba Country Inn was that on the map and on the website it advertises being close to El Yunque. After finding it I realize that it is close to the Eastern side of the park but there is not entrance there and we would have to drive back nearly to San Juan to get to the entrance. Oh well, it was a nice place with a beautiful view, breakfast and some cute dogs.
Instead of going to the park today we decided to hit Luquillo Beach and the kiosks for dinner. Luquillo is a flat and hot beach. The water is very still and there is no breeze. But it is about 2 minutes from about 60 kioskos or food kiosks. The goal was to sample a bunch of Puerto Rican favorites but were stuffed after an alcapurrio with beef, lobster taco and pinones (a plantain wrapped like a cinnamon roll with beef inside. It was washed down with a few medulla and good conversation with the kiosk worker.
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Posted by ErinDriver 12:03 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Culebra Island

28 August 2016

sunny 85 °F

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Palmetto Guesthouse had a little breakfast snack provided each morning and that was all we ate because I was eager to get to Tamarindo Beach where turtles can be found. This is another rocky beach but bathwater calm surf for snorkeling. As soon as I put my mask on I was treated to a view of six squid just hovering in a line. They didn’t seem bothered by me and I watched them for awhile until a ray took over my attention. Several times we saw a ray skimming by and eating off the bottom.
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Before long we found a couple turtles and it was actually kind of sad. The larger turtle was missing his front fin/arm and seemed to have something attached to his right eyeball. Then another smaller turtle was missing a part of its front arm.
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A short break was in order to watch some of the other wildlife of the beach.
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After all the excitement of turtles I needed fed again so this time Heathers Pizza place was calling our name. Curt thinks this was the best calzone he ever had and it was certainly loaded down with meat. It may be so good because they make their own crust. As it turns out the owner of Heathers was one of the locals we saw at the Dinghy Dock last night. Small world!
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The last part of the afternoon we spent back on Flamenco Beach before we had to turn the car in at 1900.
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This lifeguard may me feel really safe about going in to the water!
Of course just like any rental establishment the vehicle is required to be filled with gas when you return. They failed to tell us that on Sunday the gas station closes at 3:00 in the afternoon and by the way one of the two gas stations is actually out of gas. So we return the car and are promptly charged $16 for the 1 gallon of gas we used in the past day. We should have ran to the gas station like this guy on the tsunami sign.
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Trying not to be too upset about being ripped off yet again, the only thing we can do is eat again! Since it is Sunday there are few choices and we settled on Mamacita’s. This was also along some water but we were very distracted by the incredibly loud Puerto Rican’s from New York at the table next to us. One actually interrupted us to talk to the waiter while we were trying to place our order. The shrimp mofongo was the best sampling of Puerto Rican food I had to that point.
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Posted by ErinDriver 13:24 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Onward to Culebra Island

27 August 2016

sunny 85 °F

Sadly we leave Vieques today. The Seagate has breakfast that we eat outside under an umbrella. This was partially very lucky for us when we heard a huge splat sound over our heads. It appears that a large bird has tried to poop on us. When I look over a Curt though, I see something brown hit his right shoulder and roll off. He jumps up just before another large turd hits the pavement next to him. We then come to discover the iguana in the tree that has just crapped on Curt!! It was HILARIOUS…for me :)
I was very disgruntled with cabs again because the one that was organized for us by the Seagate was late. He proceeded to charge us $15 instead of the $10 we were told by Penny. I soon forgot all about it when we got on our miniature plane with the one other passenger and pilot. In 7 minutes we were landing on beautiful Culebra. A short 5 minute walk had us at the doorstep of the Palmetto Guesthouse. It is owned by Americans who reviewed the map and gave suggestions for the area.
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The advice was to rent a golf cart to get around to the beaches but by the time we got to the rental place just around the corner the only kind left were jeeps. A beautiful red Jeep was now at our mercy. First stop was the same grocery store that everyone else on the island seemed to want to shop at during that exact moment.
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I was eager to get out to Flamenco Beach because I had heard more than once that it was the most beautiful beach in the world. It would remain my favorite Puerto Rican beach for its size, soft white sand, delicious smoothies only steps away and gentle warm water. A fair amount of the rest of the day was spent sitting on the beach listening to the loud music of our closest Puerto Rican friends. Before long our black cloud found us and even brought along a little tornado.
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Before calling it a day we drove to a few of the other beaches on the island but most seemed to be very rocky with small shorelines.
The guesthouse owner had recommended the Dinghy Dock for a meal and it did not disappoint. The place is on the water and frequented by locals. I discovered the Bushwacker cocktail and we indulged in crab empanadas, crab cakes, swordfish and grouper while watching 4 foot tarpin swim in the water right next to us.
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Posted by ErinDriver 13:08 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Diving, horseback riding and Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay

26 August 2016

sunny 80 °F

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Thanks to Mother Nature we missed our dive yesterday but Black Beards Dive Shop was able to accommodate moving the dive to today. Christina was the guide for just Curt and I for a couple of dives from Mosquito Pier. They were nice relaxed dives where she pointed out many things we would never have seen like a nudibranch (snail like creature), tiny little shrimp and hidden octopi. Both dives hit the pilings of the pier that are covered with coral. Both dives we saw turtles eating the coral, lobster and tons of starfish. Our second dive we saw TWO spotted eagle rays that just floated by us seemingly with a smile on their face.
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The guide recommended El Yate for lunch so we shared a beef turnover and rice and beans with chicken. This was all washed down with our favorite beer of the trip, Medalla.
A quick name was closely followed by horseback riding. The Seagate has several horses on site and Penny set us off in to town on two of them, yelling not to worry because the horses aren’t scared of dogs. It doesn’t take long to learn why she had to tell us this. Duke is the Seagate dog that comes along on all the rides. He attracts all the loose neighbor dogs to come screaming out of their homes to bark at him. Add to this the rolling hills, single lane roads used as double, crazy Puerto Rican drivers and horses that wanted to walk in the center of the road. What you then have is a nice relaxing ride! The ride in total was about 2 hours with about 20 minutes being on the beach. Unfortunately the tide was coming up quite high so I’m pretty sure the horses had to go through areas they normally wouldn’t. We could admit it was fun but only after we knew we had arrived back to the hotel safely.
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Because the horseback ride went a little long it was nearly time to meet our tour of the biobay so Penny gave us a ride in to town. We had a quick al fresco dinner at Papi Pinchos. Curt had a pincho which is basically a kabob of meat and we split a quesadilla.
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The tour of the bioluminescent bay was kicking off from Black beard sports with a van full of people. The drive out to the biobay would be nearly impossible to do in a car because the road was so horrible. The driver kept us entertained by talking the entire way there (30 min). At the entrance to the biobay the tour operators are trying to keep everything dark to better see the lights so glow in the dark rocks are put in the walkway.
Our group is quickly put in about 5-6 double kayaks and people immediately disperse in all different directions. Somehow the guides rally us together around their kayak and give us some info on the biobay and have us do silly things like put our hand in the water and then quickly extend one of our fingers. Thanks to those tiny dinoflagellates that light up it looks like we are shooting blue fire out of our finger.
The biobay is called mosquito bay but not because of the obvious. There was a vigilante pirate named Mosquito who was killed there. It is the brightest of all biobays in the world. People used to be able to swim in it but the micro organisms were dying. With only kayaking allowed it is now coming back to life. The assumption is that these organisms are lighting up to defend themselves from predators. This is a great environment for them because of the surrounding red mangrove trees that grow their roots in to the water. Each one can illuminate itself 7-8 times per night and three could fit on the head of a pin. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to take any photos of this phenomenon without special camera equipment.

Posted by ErinDriver 12:51 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Vieques, Puerto Rico - the wild island

25 August 2016

sunny 85 °F

Today I wake up about 0730 and rush to the window to see roughly the same thing I saw yesterday, threatening clouds. I pick up my phone and see a call came in around 0720 so I return the call and find out it was the airline. Two people on the 0800 flight cancelled and they wanted to see if we could make it. We make it out of the hotel and to the airport in record time, leaving one of Curt’s bathing suits in the shower at the Marriott :(
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The flight is on the tiniest plane I have ever had the privilege of riding in. I think Curt’s head was hitting the ceiling and we could practically all reach up and touch the controls if we really wanted to. The flight was 30 minutes and the reason we packed only 20 pound bags for the whole two weeks. I think the limit was 30 pounds.
The lodging was the Seagate hotel who provided us a ride to the hotel from Café Nona which is a little shack right outside the airport. It churns out very tasty breakfast sandwiches we sampled while waiting for our ride to arrive. Not long after we ate an SUV pulls up with the horn honking and the driver yelling Seagate hotel. The driver is Penny whose family has owned the hotel for about 50 years I think. I will never forget the wild white horse we pass standing on the side of the road. This is when I remember reading that Vieques is named the wild island. Upon arrival I was very happy with the hotel, they had some breakfast snacks ready, upgraded our room and didn’t charge us for the previous night we had reserved.
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We learn the beaches are several miles away so walk the mile or so in to Isabella, the town center and rent a scooter. It was thrilling and terrifying all at once, mostly because of the Puerto Rican drivers who always seem to drive as if they are the only ones on the road.
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We rode through a few rain squalls but eventually found Caracas Beach. We spent a few hours laying in the sun/rain and attempting to snorkel. There wasn’t much to see and we had to return the scooter at 1800 so we decided to try to eat first.
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The town on the opposite side of the island is Esperanza and it has more of the restaurants along a waterfront walkway. Lazy Jacks looked like the most fun as we had pizza and fish tacos overlooking the water.
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Posted by ErinDriver 12:35 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Change of Plans

24 August 2016

rain 80 °F

I jump out of bed this morning excited for our flight to Vieques, a small island off the east side of the mainland, and some time on the beach. The first inkling that this wish may not be granted was when I looked outside and saw the gray clouds.
Bombonero was another restaurant recommended for breakfast and it was delicious although I would probably rather have my chocolate milkshake at Casa Cortes. The waiters are all neatly dressed in suits and bow ties and it has a nice pastry counter which we took some samplings from. The mallorca sweet bread sandwich was among our indulgenceslarge_bombonera__1_of_1_.jpg before the taxi ride to the airport.

Upon arrival at the airport is when things began to get strange. Curt and I were the only people waiting in the Vieques Air Link line for atleast 45 minutes. Finally we were told the worker had to fix something with his badge and would be along shortly. After another 30-45 minutes the same guy came around to say the weather in Vieques was bad. He couldn’t tell us if the flight would go or not. Finally about 10 minutes before the flight was due to leave the airline agent came to show us the big ball of red on the radar picture of the area on his cell phone. He let us know the flight would not be going. After much deliberation and some pizza for lunch we decided to get a hotel and get the 0800 flight he mentioned the next day. He returns about 10 minutes later with our flight info for 1445 the next day reporting that we could call the airline later to get on the 0800 flight. During this time our hotel in Vieques calls to let me know the weather is beautiful without a drop of rain.
More than a little disappointed we take yet another taxi to the Marriott in Isla Verde where we got a room using points. I’m pretty sure the guy saw our crestfallen faces and upgraded us to an ocean view room and gave us free drink tickets. Curt called the airline to get us on the 0800 flight only to be told it was full.
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The rest of my day was spent in a panic, as the rest of the trip for the next five days depended on getting to Vieques. Curt spent it sunbathing in the rain next to the ocean. Dinner was our free drink and some appetizers. For me my heart just wasn’t in it.
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Posted by ErinDriver 12:22 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Another day in Paradise

23 August 2016

sunny 90 °F

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Tuesday morning brings many more breakfast options to include Casa Cortes. A friend from Puerto Rico recommended it and it is famous for its chocolate, supposedly even Hershey's gets some from them. I celebrate that with an absolutely delicious shake to go with the mallorca breakfast sandwich. Mallorca is a really light bread that they sprinkle with powdered sugar to make sweet.
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The mission for today is the Bacardi factory and in my research it seemed the cheapest way to get their was the $1 ferry ticket followed by a shuttle to the factory. The ferry ride was easy enough but there did not seem to be a shuttle, only taxi drivers offering the ride for $12. Curt got them down to $10 but I was still irritated by this expense.
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Upon arrive we signed up for the mixology tour and were given a welcome rum drink - that made things a little better :) There really wasn't much to the tour of the factory besides a peak at the huge vats and a $2000 bottle of rum. They don't actually do much in Puerto Rico and the rum was actually started in Cuba. The bottling and distro is done in Jacksonville, Florida. The bat is a symboll of health, family and fortune and was chosen as the mascot when it was seen flying out of one of the first distilleries.
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Most of our tour was spent in the mixology room learning how to make a daiquiri, cuba libre and mojito. This was quite fun but also meant by the time we left the tour I had had four rum drinks in about 1.5 hours! Much to my dismay we had to pay $12 again to get back to the ferry. The terminal happened to be across from the Harley Davidson shop which happened to have a few nice t-shirts.
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Lunch was at Princesa Gastrobar which was part of our food tour yesterday. I had risotto baricua which was with strip steak and Curt enjoyed red snapper.
The afternoon had us climbing around the other castle in San Juan, San Cristobal. It was almost closing time and it was very similar to El Morro.
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We thought these birds we saw were the rare Puerto Rican parrot but actually I think they were just a parakeet.
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Our sticks were tired so went down to the cruise ship and did some people watching to include a man trying to get his dog back on the ship. Our bellies were still full but I wanted to go to Barrachina to have one of the orginial Pina Coladas. It was pretty busy so we had some soup and a drink at the bar next to the really sad looking parrots.
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Posted by ErinDriver 09:26 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

First Day in San Juan, Puerto Rico

22 August 2016

sunny 90 °F

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We were lucky enough to be waking up this morning in Old San Juan, Pu)erto Rico. Hotels in this area are very expensive so we are waking up on twin beds in the Posada San Francisco hostel. It is basic but meets all our needs except for breakfast. We take the very scary rickety elevator down to the first floor and out in to the sunshine to search for food. Unfortunately it is monday and most places are closed. we eventually find a hole in the wall place called cafe Ochoa where it seems most of the work force of San Juan gets their morning sustenance. We got an omelet not worth mentioning but it came with sour dough toast that was absolutely amazing.
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The rest of the morning we strolled around (and I took pictures) of the Old Town. We walked along the Pasado de Princesa which apparently is very happening little marketplace on the weekend....but not Mondays.
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Eventually that runs in to the National Park Systems recreational walk along the wall to El Morro Fort.
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After a short bit we start to notice cat after cat coming out of the rocks and the shrubbery.
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We notice plastic bins made in to a shelter with buckets of cat food inside. Later its discovered that San Juan had a rat problem so they brought in some cats. I'm sure its not surprising that soon cats were breeding out of control and they are left with what they have today - tons of cats to take care of.
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Eventually the path winds around to the opposite side of El Morro Fort which small walking trails and lizards large and small coming from everywhere to include the treetops. El Morros is a six level fort with 140 foot walls dating back to the 1500's. The wall incorporates the gate in to San Juan where years ago visitors had to present themselves before gaining access.
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With the National Park pass access to the inside of El Morro fort is free and people are free to check out historical displays, beautiful views and the lighthouse.
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By this time our legs were dying so we stopped at an open air bar that offers two El Presidente beers for $5. We have a cuban sandwich I don't fail to notice that we visitors in a new place and having beer from the Dominican Republic and sandwiches named after Cuba. Oh well, there's still time.
This sad situation is soon remedied when we meet up with our Flavors of San Juan tour group to eat our way around the Old Town. Our guide is very passionate about what she does and throws out tons of informational tidbits about San Juan. Between restaurants she tells us PR is now part of the US but they continue to keep their own Olympic Team (tennis player just won Gold medal in Brazil) and Miss America contestant. The do not vote after the primary election but kids are required to learn English in school. We learn the blue cobblestones only look blue because of oxidation.
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The first restaurant was Princesa Gastrobar, the only all open air restaurant in San Juan. Here we get a lecture on the rums of PR and have the first pina colada of the trip. The food sample plate has croquetas and berenjena rebosada (eggplant toped with chicken).
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Next up is a popsicle from Senor Paleta which is actually closed today. Our guide runs up and brings out six popsicles from the factory and they go down quick. Who would have thought a strawberry mojito popsicle would be so delicious.
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We have a break to look over the water and run in to a local who carries around an iguana. His scam to get money is to drap it on people and then accept money for the pictures they want. I fell for it hook line and sinker.
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Next up on Calle Fortaleza is a store/restaurant called Cafe el Punto for Alcapurria with pique sauce and ceviche.
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By now we are getting pretty full but the fun is only beginning. At an adorable and cozy little restaurant called Rosa de Triana we get to mash our own plantains for the local dish called mofongo. Some chicken is added to the mashed plantains and a plate of the most delicious rice and beans accompany it. Unsure how any more can fit in our stomachs we proceed to the last location, Vaca Brava for cheese flan.
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The food tour ended up being dinner so my next mission was a Panama hat. After looking in a few shops I was about to call it a night when Curt saw a store called Ole that said it would custom fit your hat. As I am getting mine measured I see a photo on the wall with a familiar face. I realize we are getting our hats at the same place as my idol, Samantha Brown from the Travel Channel.
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Posted by ErinDriver 15:49 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

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