Saturday, November 30, 2019

San Juan Is For Birthdays... And Other Things!

Bruce and I are becoming marvellously familiar with the streets of Old San Juan.  Not so long ago, we would have shied away from an invitation to join friends here for a birthday celebration, but now, we're all in!  So when the invitation came, we booked a last minute hotel reservation and hit the road!

We began our weekend away with some delicious Mexican Food at Chido's in Isla Verde.  It's a relaxed place with sort of a "Spring Break" attitude.  Since leaving Texas so many years ago, we are constantly on the lookout for some good Tex-Mex.  While the food here is more of a Mexican-with-a-Puerto-Rican-flare... I can say that the frijoles refritos are the best we've had in Puerto Rico and the prices are good... so we'll go back!

Lovely art in the lobby
After lunch, we drove around the streets of Isla Verde and Condado just because we haven't before.  The whole area is sort of like Port Aransas, so we felt very much at home.  We parked in the $3 parking lot, unfazed by our hotel's published parking in the $13-$14 per day lots!  Poor tourists, they don't know who to trust!  I tried to get a reservation at the place we stayed in October, but with one day advanced notice, they were already full.  I had to look around for another cheap hotel in the heart of Old San Juan... You might think that's impossible, but I was able to book an interior room at My hotel in Puerto Rico at a VERY reasonable rate!

We arrived at about 2:30 pm with a 3:00 check-in time, but I was at the desk waiting with my backpack and my credit card... AND my Puerto Rican ID!  I still love whipping that baby out!

Looking up through the stairwell, there's a nice skylight to brighten the interior.
The artwork here is very vivid!
Promptly at 3:00, we were checked in and given brief instructions for working the door security, then off we went, climbing the old staircase to the second floor.  There's a nice cool lobby on our floor with a TV for relaxing, but we continued on past to find our room.  There are only 11 rooms in this little hotel, and the Old San Juan vibe is strong.  I always long to see inside of these old buildings when we walk the streets, and here we are actually STAYING in another of them!
Travelling light!
No that isn't a stain on the bed.  The ruff is just pushed the wrong way!
Our cheap, interior room was advertised as having no window, but there was one that opened onto the the stairwell, so it was an unexpected treat.  The walls are brightly painted, and while the bedding was a little tired, it was clean-smelling and comfortable.  We had our own air conditioner and it was icy cold inside!  Nice after a hot trek from the parking lot in mid afternoon!
Bruce moved his clothes into the antique armoire immediately!
The bathroom was small and basic, but clean.  I was worried when I didn't see a blow dryer, but Bruce went down to the desk and got a loaner for me.  We relaxed and showered in preparation for a walk along the Paseo la Princessa and what I imagined would turn into a late dinner!  Our reservation was for 7:30pm, which is long after we are normally done with dinner and on our way to bed!

Our checkered stairwell

Our foyer!
Our unobtrusive doorway
You wouldn't even know that this was an hotel!
We were happy to see more people wandering around here than there were during our previous visit.

I LOVE these old buildings!
Vendors set up and tourists strolling the Paseo de la Princessa
The best time to be in OSJ is at night.  The lights and the vendors, the music and the song of thousand coquis fills the air to make it a magical experience.  It was just beginning to grow dark when we turned to follow the Paseo past the vendor's tents.

Just the right amount of crowd!
Night falls, and the lights transform the city!

We strolled along in the moist, cool Caribbean air, drinking in the beauty of the lights all around us.  The streets are tastefully decorated for the Christmas Holidays, with an orderly line forming for photos beneath this sparkling tree.  Being here just makes my heart feel light and there is no way to squelch the feeling of happiness that this is our home... but then, I'm not trying to squelch it at all!

The scents of delicious, Puerto Rican favorites tantalise our senses as we stroll past the vendor's trucks.  If we didn't have dinner reservations, we would surely have sampled a little from each vendor!  But we are saving our appetites for later!

There are several cruise ships in port, but we watched as two of them silently departed.  Mostly locals and visitors from one huge ship remain here tonight.  Children scamper along the waterfront where we found more little bits of awesomeness.  Small mosaics of each municipality adorn the walkway!  How can such delights be relegated to the ground to be trampled upon??

There was a truly festive atmosphere in the streets closer to the cruise ship dock.  Everywhere we looked, there was joy!

Lighted balloons!  I couldn't think of a reason to have one... but I wanted it!
Soon, we hope to be setting sail on one of these!
YES we ARE pretty much always smiling here in Puerto Rico!
We found a nice bench in front of the seawall to sit and wait until time to go to the restaurant.  We watched as harbour tour boats arrived and departed, full of happy tourists!

Silent sailboats ghosted along slowly in the light breeze just beyond the reach reach of the lights on shore.  A wisp of melancholy assailed us for a moment as we wished we were taking that night sail on our boat.  If only we could keep our faithful Dos Libras...  We even discussed briefly,  getting a smaller, more simplified sailboat to keep in San Juan for nights just such as this.  While that may be in our future, right now we just can't commit to taking on another responsibility... and boats are a HUGE responsibility, especially here in Hurricane Alley!  Maybe we'll just charter or take evening sails to support the local economy!  It sure looked like fun as we watched the boats loom close, then turn at the absolute last second before hitting the wall!

Last minute tack!  We sure wanted to be out there on that boat!
We abandoned those melancholy thoughts, and turned our attention to a more festive activity... Time to go meet our friends at Tiana Tapas and Flamenco!

Tonight's party was a surprise for April's Birthday!  She is leaving Puerto Rico for a while, and it might be some time until we see her again, so we pretended to say our See-You-Soon's yesterday as we headed home from a lovely happy hour on the dock.  I couldn't wait to see her face when she realized that we were all here for one more night of laughs!

I think they were having a lesson!  I want a frilly skirt!!!
Everyone was in place, and decorations set out when Burt brought April to our table right off the stage.  She looked a little surprised, but quickly accepted her fate as she donned the flashing tiara signifying her as the Birthday Girl! I still had no idea that there would be entertainment at this point, but everyone was in good spirits as we anticipated the delicious menu items in store for us tonight!

Liz and Emily, the daughters who had arranged tonight's festivities, ordered for the table and the Tapas began to arrive by the plateful.  So. Many. Plates!

As we passed the delicious treats around, the lights went down and an old dude with a guitar took the stage.  His face was passive and maybe even a little grumpy... but what he lacked in facial expression, he made up for with his magical fingers on that simple guitar!  He began to strum and all attention turned his way.  Perhaps his visage was a ploy to lull us into low expectations, but very soon we were simply blown away by the showmanship of the famous Flamenco Guitarist, Juan Carlos Romero!
The energy!  The frills!
The lighting made the skirts seem to GLOW!

One after another, he played songs from many latin countries, while in Spanish, English and even a little French, he regaled us with stories of the songs and of his life.  He's had a long and adventurous life in which he has performed for some very famous people!  And just imagine... here he is playing for US!  What a stunning stroke of good fortune, indeed!

Impossible to choose... 

Not the same demeanour as it was at the beginning!
All eyes were on the stage as one after another, the songs flowed from his simple Spanish Six String guitar.  The entire room was enraptured as Juan Carlos and the Flamenco Dancers enticed and entertained us.  The mood went from casual interest, to surprised delight, to full-on stunned amazement!  We couldn't believe what had just happened to us.  I can't remember when I've seen a better show, and certainly did not expect THAT!  Once again, I am struck dumb by our amazing good fortune, and I thank Burt and April's children for an outstanding evening!

The lovely birthday girl blowing out the candle as the staff sang to her!
All good things must come to an end, but when the lights came up and the last frill disappeared behind the dressing room door, we still had a delicious rum cake to gobble down!  Another good friend of April's made this crazy-good cake, and thankfully it was a small one, because our bellies were full to bursting with the good food and drink we had already consumed.  How glad I am NOW that we got an hotel room so close to the restaurant!!!

Never miss an opportunity to be cheesie!
The wild streets of Old San Juan at night!

Finally we said our farewells, but this was not the final goodbye.  Everyone made their way back to their respective hotels, with plans to meet up again tomorrow for a tour of some of the highlights of Old San Juan!  Will the fun never stop???  I hope not!

Friday, November 8, 2019

What In Tarnation???

Off duty herd
Yup!  I finally talked Bruce into taking a trail ride!  The Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park put out a discount certificate for Puerto Rican residents and I was quick to take advantage of our newfound resident status!

We drove an hour and a half to get to the property in Luquillo, PR. and found quite a slick operation.  They have about 200 horses here, and they run groups throughout the day.

We arrived early and got to stroll around the property, looking at the other adventures offered such as ATV and go-cart rides, and of course the gift shop!  We actually purchased a couple of the face sun protection scarves because this is the first place we've found them for a reasonable price!  Then we had a little fun, paying no mind to the fact that the face holes were placed at a level for children!  Hey, I'm trying to keep us BOTH young!

Sexy hairnet!
The staff called our group promptly at 1pm and started handing out helmets... with hairnets to keep the funk from getting us.  Yeah, right.  Bruce and I came prepared with closed toed shoes, sun hats, sun protective shirts and jeans!  I actually had to go and purchase a pair of jeans for this!  I haven't owned a pair since 2013 when we moved onto the boat!!!  I think we were the only couple dressed appropriately for this, but hey, it's only an hour!

Would have preferred our broad-brimmed hats... but SAFETY FIRST!
Getting a well-deserved drink!
As we were mounting up one by one, the staff very deliberately matched the person to the horse.  They had shorter horses with child saddles for the kids.  These came with seat belts! While we waited, another group returned and as the riders dismounted, the horses hustled over to the water station for a drink.  They knew the drill!  When a group of horses gathered at the drink station, the staff would make a particular sound and the horses dutifully left the water and went into the stall!  Pretty neat.

It was kind of funny though, when the staff weren't paying attention, horses would sneak back out to the water trough!  Then the guys would make that sound again, and the horses skedaddled back into the holding pen!

Bruce hopping up onto Junior!

And here comes a horse for ME!
Adjusting my stirrups!
Eventually we were called up to claim our horses.  The cowboys helped us to mount, then painstakingly adjusted our stirrups to the appropriate length.  They made sure that we were each comfortable in the saddle and inquired about our riding experience.  If needed, instructions were given as well as special attributes for each horse.  Bruce's horse was Junior, and mine was Sandy.  I was told that Sandy was sensitive so I shouldn't be too hard on his bit.  Good to know!

When everyone was mounted up, we were introduced to our guides and reminded to keep our heels down and shown the proper way to hold the reins, then we headed out onto the trail!

While Bruce was taking a photo of me...
I was taking a photo of HIM!

We rode along a well worn pathway, often times muddy and sometimes just a big puddle.  I tried to rein my horse around the puddles, but like most trail rides, the horse knows the drill.  At least I could keep his nose out of the butt of the horse in front so that we didn't get kicked!  Bruce and I rode together most of the way, with the horses mixing and matching at other times.  While this is nothing like riding out in the wild, it is a whole lot easier and we got to see some countryside in the foothills of El Yunque rainforest.

Hey, it's difficult to get a good photo while trying to ride a horse!

The trail took us up a few hills, down a few hills, and alongside a few cow pastures.  We wove our way through the property of some other stable owners and our horses talked to those in the stalls.  I guess they're used to seeing us pass through their homes!

Bruce did a good job of having a good time, although sometimes he is difficult to impress!  Through all of the islands we've visited that offered trail riding, this is the first time he has agreed to go!

The Carabali property is really nice.  They have a lot to offer the tourist, even those who live here!

We did the one hour trail ride, and for people who don't ride horses often, that was just about the perfect length.  The temperatures here in the rainforest foothills were mild, even for a mid-day ride.  But sun protective clothing went a long way toward making us comfortable.

So after a delightful hour spent communing with nature and laughing with the other riders, we found ourselves back at the staging area.  We were assisted with dismounting, and the horses knew the drill!  As soon as they were riderless, they went over to get a sip of water, then returned dutifully to the corral!

After we dismounted and our horses left us, we asked the cowboy if we could get Sandy and Junior back for a photo.

Cowboy: Ummm we don't have a horse named Sandy.  (thinking a bit)  Could it be DUSTY?
Me:  Oh yeah, that's it!  No wonder he didn't pay attention to me when I spoke to him!

We were given the opportunity to say goodbye to our new friends DUSTY and Junior.
I can't see this photo without giggling!  Looks like I'm slurping the horse through a straw, and Bruce is sticking his tongue into the horse's ear.  Horse is having none of it!  
After our ride, we definitely felt a little wobbly!  Add to that, hot and hungry and we were glad that we had also purchased the discount certificate for a nice late lunch at the Carabali Restaurant!  The service was perfect, the sangrias delicious and the food superb!
Sirloin tips in mushroom sauce!
Bruce can never pass up a rib opportunity!
It was a fun day getting back to my Texas roots, communing with nature and doing something fun and out of the ordinary!  It is my goal to keep the fun alive and never stop exploring our beautiful island home!  Thank you to the fine folks at Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park for another happy day in Paradise!