Thursday, August 15, 2019

When In San Juan...

Living on the Southeast coast, we are beyond the reach of most Uber drivers, and a taxi ride to the airport can be expensive!  So when friends need a ride, of course we volunteer. I would like to pretend that we're doing it for them... but really, it gives us an excuse to discover more of the charms of our new home!  When in Viejo San Juan... we explore!

We didn't really have a plan... but very soon I remembered a couple of things that were on my "to do" list!  We began our afternoon with a walk along Paseo de la Princesa where we enjoyed the lovely fountain that overlooks the entrance to the Port of San Juan.  It's a Thursday and we quickly discovered that this was the day to be here!  Where are the crowds?  There's hardly anybody around and it was awesome having the place all to ourselves!  We didn't see any cruise ships in port, so maybe that was the reason.  It's also the first week of Back-to-school... so that could be it as well...  Whatever the reason, we relished the empty streets, so we strolled on!

We parked in one of the pay-lots near the Paseo.  For $3 you can park until midnight, and it's very close to the start of today's objective ~ Paseo del Morro! I love a good reason to walk, and when I discovered that there was a pathway leading along the water outside the walled forts, it went to the top of my list of things to do on our next visit to the historic city.  I had misgivings today however, because it is the height of summer and it's HOT!  Add to that, the pathway is hidden from the slightest breeze, and we immediately discovered that today might not be the best day to enjoy this attraction!

We gave it a go, but when the Puerta de San Juan rose in front of us... we ducked through it, relieved to find a cool courtyard with a Piragua Vendor calling out to us!

Piraguas are shaved-ice snow cones that come in a variety of local flavours.  You can mix them, or remain true to your favorite... but they are perfect for a hot day exploring the old city.

I thought this was a break from our walk along the outer wall... but when I began to walk back toward the tunnel, Bruce balked!  Guess we're going to walk inside the wall where there is some shade to be found!  Paseo del Morro goes back on the list-of-things-to-do for some future morning stroll!

But don't cry for me just yet!  There are treasures to behold everywhere! I am continually amazed at the brilliance the local artists display.  This fallen tree, remnants of hurricane Maria in 2017, has become a symbol of the fortitude these islanders possess.

We found the Plaza de la Rogativa, where a beautiful bronze statue commemorates events in 1797 when a Catholic bishop formed a rogativa (procession) of faith with his his companions, against the British.  Thinking they were Spanish reinforcements, the British gave up their attack!  "Faith does move mountains" and there are so many more of these little jewels to be discovered!

You might notice that the views seem somewhat muted today. Well, that's because we are experiencing a thick layer of Saharan Dust here in the Caribbean.  It's astounding when we gaze out over the normally crystalline aqua waters and see that our blue skies are turned to grey.  It's simply unbelievable, but it's true.  We are blanketed with this layer of dust that is keeping our tropical waters quiet so far this hurricane season, and for that, we are thankful!

We are eyed drowsily by this beautiful boy!
Continuing on, we discovered another thing for which to be thankful. Stroll along these lanes, and you can't miss the cats lounging in leisurely splendour, as cats are known to do.  You might wonder why they seem so unconcerned about from whence their next meal might come... Well, it's because they are cared for by these wonderful people!   It's a group of kind-hearted animal lovers who have formed a group called Save-A-Gato!  Faith in humanity ~ RESTORED!
Along the way, there are feeding/water stations for the cats.
The line forms here...
We found ourselves suddenly at the base of the vast lawn leading to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  We were astounded to see the grass completely free of bodies! Has there been a zombie apocalypse that we don't know about???  I guess one of the MANY perks of living here, is that we get to visit when nobody else is around!!!

But the Fort, while on our list... is not at the top! Today we make the long-awaited visit to the cemetery!  We have tried to find the entrance to his place several times, but each time we went down the road to the tunnel entrance, it was locked.  Today... it was not!

I've often wondered why a cemetery, full of people who can no longer enjoy the magnificent view of the coast, were afforded the prime spot along the coastlines of quite a few of the Caribbean islands we've visited.  I discovered the possible answer on Wikipedia when looking for information about Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery!

"The colonial Spanish government at the time construction of the cemetery commenced, viewed death with fear because it was a mystery. Therefore, they decided to build the cemetery to overlook the Atlantic Ocean to symbolize the spirit's journey to cross over to the afterlife"

My memory of this place from our first visit to the island before we were married, was of creamy, snowy white monuments.  Today, the monuments are still here, but they have gained some weathered effects. No longer are they the brilliant white I remember, but now, they are a more mature, dramatic mix of translucence and moss.  While it is a reminder that you "can never go back", there is beauty in the experience of what comes next.  The ravages of time and nature are more evident here now, but again, it is a testament to perseverance.

Join me as we walk through the cemetery!

 This is a favorite.  She brings such a feeling of sorrow...
The translucence of the robes astounds me!
Hope of an afterlife?
A grieving family...
Despair.  Again, the robes astound me!

The lonely coast.

The scent of seaweed fills the warm, salty air as my feet tread upon the springy grass between monuments.  The wall feels solid beneath my palms giving me the confidence to face the onslaught of a relentless sea.  How is it that the sea has not won the battle and claimed this land as its prize?  The strength of those long dead must hold it at bay.  I take comfort in that as the anxiety inside me threatens to bubble to the surface.  I'm safe now... on my island.

La Perla

La Perla is the "forbidden fruit" of Old San Juan.  It is a small community that lies outside the city walls, where historically it was built and occupied by the former black slaves who built much of this island's history, and poor white outcasts.  Understandably, the inhabitants are reluctant to open their doors to curiosity seekers, and it has been said that these crime-ridden streets have claimed many-a-life from brazen tourists.  Of course, this only makes me want to see it more!  But out of respect, I will try to be satisfied with this view.  We should leave something to be claimed by those who have so little.  Maybe some day, the people who live here will invite us in, and I will be ready!

If you long to "live" on this coast... you could live here, literally... FOREVER!
The time has come...

Who knows how long we wandered... We passed through the gate to the older part of the cemetery and found new wonders to behold.  There is a long row-house that holds the urns of those who preferred cremation, but still rated a spot on these hallowed grounds.  The building is in a grave state of disrepair. (pardon the pun) The breeze billows the sheets hanging from the arches in a ghostly motion.  The vibe here is getting to me!!!

We tiptoed through the hushed halls of this central pavilion on the grounds of the older part of the cemetery.  It just seemed right to be quiet, straining to hear the voices of the past.

All too soon, Daniel, the caretaker here for the past year, came to beckon us away.  The cemetery normally closes at 3pm, but even though it's early still, he wants to close.  He says it's a slow day and he will give us a free tour if we come back another day.  I think we will take him up on that!

He showed us around briefly, pointing out newly painted spots and monuments destroyed by Maria, as we backtracked to the only entrance gate.

Ashes lying outside of the mausoleum and along the walls.
Last chance before you spend the night with the dead!!!
We will be back for the tour Daniel!

The cemetery from the wall!

Back to the streets of OSJ

By now, we were starving and sweaty, but we still enjoyed our fast backtrack through the maze of colorful homes and businesses that line the cobbled brick streets.  We had one more stop lined up for the day before we headed for Arroyo.  It's a little shop in Rio Piedras where new treats await!

Sometimes I feel like a cheap-skate when I show up with my coupon in hand and demand our full meal at half the price.  But then I realize that without that coupon, we never would have found the amazing eateries we've visited recently!

El Churro Bar is the newest one to join the growing list!

With rumbling tummies, we drove to nearby Rio Piedras and found off-street parking for $2... then strolled down the main street that lines the historic town square.

How did a relatively new eatery come to be housed inside one of these amazing old buildings?  It's another of the things we love about Puerto Rico!  They don't just tear down the historical buildings because it's cheaper to build new than to repair the old... They revive the past and meld it with the present in a charming mix that is a pleasure to behold.

We felt that strange connection to times gone by as we walked in and looked around.  The little food cart that began the business is still in use in their new location!  Daniella greeted us as she flipped home made corn tortillas on the griddle.

We showed our coupon and she welcomed us with a warm smile, no sign that she thought we were cheap-skates at all!  She gave us our choices of taco, and then we moved on to the dessert... THE CHURRO!  We blindly chose one... thinking that it ALL sounded delicious!

We were seated in the old anteroom of the home built in 1868 by the family of Eduardo Georgetti, a well-known sugar baron.  He inherited his family's country home as his parents, wealthy landowners before him, died when he was young.

Sitting in this comfortable antique chair in a room decorated in the simple, eclectic fashion of a time gone by (if you can ignore the TV going on the wall behind me), was a special treat.  It made us feel like we are growing our connection to the island with every passing day!

We weren't really sure what to expect as we waited for our food to come.  When the tacos were placed before us, the aroma pulled us in with the promise of something delicious about to happen!

Each of the tacos was made with a distinct blend spices, and the flavours were a subtle surprise.  How can something as simple as a TACO be this good???

A churro sandwich!
We gobbled them down, along with the bean dip and chips we ordered...  Then just as we finished, the Churros arrived!

Not really sure how to eat this... but I figured it out!
Coming from South Texas, I am well familiar with Churros.  They're usually lightly fried and dry with a mess of cinnamon/sugar on them, and that's about it.  THESE Churros are not fried, they're baked to golden, crispy perfection with a surprisingly moist, eggy inside.  They are sort of like french toast inside.  So good.  Not too sweet, perfect accompaniment to the home made ice cream flavours offered here.  I picked the cappuccino. To. Die. For!

After we finished, Daniella came over to chit chat and told us about the history of this house.  She said they have been in business for about two years, and are currently negotiating the opening of a new location near the airport.  I tried to talk her into opening a location in Patillas along the Chinchorreo route...  I think I planted the seed... your'e welcome!

We left with full and happy tummies, wishing her well, and wishing the drive home was shorter!  I need a nap!

Once again, we returned home thinking how fortunate we are to have this whole island to explore at leisure.  Living here, we don't have to pack it all in within the space of a week... we can enjoy it slowly, in little bits and pieces.

So when someone asks us to make that airport run... we are happy to do it, because it gives us another opportunity to get out and explore... When In San Juan!


  1. Thanks for this blog, I ( and I mean we)need to appreciate more this blessed island, that we are so fortunate to call home!!! Thanks for for appreciating it as well.

  2. Oh the pleasure is all mine! I love this island!