Monday, March 23, 2020

"Lasts" Before COVID-19 Lockdown

The view from our LAST Happy Hour...

I have to say that we're pretty spoiled here in our post-cruising life.  We have good friends, a nice beach, and lots of free time to enjoy both. Then suddenly... CLOVID-19 happened.

Each Beachwalk is unique...
We may walk this beach a thousand times...
But no two will be the same!

Bruce trying out his new fishing pole.
Collecting sea glass while being socially distant from EVERYONE!
Immediately prior to all of this becoming an ever-changing merry-go-round, we had a week of non-stop fun with a guest.  It seemed like no sooner had we dropped her off at the airport, the entire planet began to lose its mind!

Bruce and I settled back into our normal life, happy to rest for a while!  We would take the remainder of the week off to relax, and then begin our week on Monday with a trip to drop friends off at the airport.  That's pretty much all that's on our calendar until the end of April.

The only reason we had to get out was for some exercise, maybe try out that new fishing pole Bruce bought the other day... The sun was shining, winds were down, and we felt very safe and responsible here on our beach!
A patrol prowled along this coast, making three passes before moving on. Wonder what that's about?

Wow what a haul!  This was the best catch ever! And look at all of those BLUES!!
I think this was the day that the Lockdown was decided...

We got up early on Monday, and took our friends to the airport.  The new rules were in effect today, but we were sure that we would be fine doing this, and making a run to Costco on our way home.  Essential services were the only businesses allowed to be open, and people were allowed to be out when using them, as long as everyone was home on lockdown between 9pm and 5am.  Business were all to close at 6pm daily.

It was almost like a "snow day"! Like all normal demands on our time were halted.  It was a procrastinator's dream!  EVERYTHING that could be put off until tomorrow, was now to be put off for TWO WEEKS!

I think that most people were willing to give it a go.  Take a break from life, relax, catch up on some solitary pursuits, maybe for the first time in our lives, sitting in front of the TV in our skivvies was the "noble" thing to do!  We've got this America!!

When we got home on Monday, we still had time to take another walk on the beach, and I had a new Fitbit to take out for a spin!

It was eerily quiet out there... as if even Mother Nature was under lockdown! We had never seen the Bay so calm and flat.  And the beach combing?  So. Many. Pieces of Sea glass!

First of these we've seen on our beach!  Sadly, dead of course. 

Biggest haul of blues EVER!
On our way back in, we paused by a neighbor's gate for a short - six foot away - chat.  She dropped the bombshell into the conversation so smoothly, I almost missed it.

People found on the beaches in San Juan, and other areas, were being issued citations that carried fines of up to $5,000.00!!

This sh**'s getting REAL!

Never in my wildest dreams had I considered that OUR beach would be off limits.  For a while, I wrestled with myself in my head.  Nobody is patrolling out there.  I'm sure the rules are for those more popular beaches, the ones so crowded that people are tripping over one another. Our beach is "private".... I'm sure it's OK.  But in the end, the "goodie two-shoes" in me won out, and we reluctantly gave up our beach walks.

That seems so long ago now as I look back at that last hurrah.  But, we've been trying to make the best of this and remain positive.  I had my doubts in the beginning, but I know it's the right thing to do.  Especially since Bruce is in the "at risk" category because of his age.

We began looking for new ways to get exercise.  We found workouts on YouTube that we enjoy (well, sort of) doing.  We began walking around our courtyard.  That's still OK, because we can keep a distance, and it IS private property... So far the rules have not banned us from walking outside, just not in public places.  I've been able to keep my voracious new FitBit Master at least partially sated!

So far, we've managed to keep our diet in check and haven't sunk to wallowing in carbs and junk food!  But we did run out of fresh veggies and had to go out into the world for more.  That was interesting.  There weren't many people on the roads, but still some.  When we got to the nearest grocery store, we found a LONG line of people waiting outside ~ at safe distances from one another, of course.  We decided it wasn't worth waiting, and we would check another store.  Second one, still a long line, in the sun! Nope!

We would just go home and come back out in the morning... But then I got worried that the store hours would be abbreviated.  What if we went out and everything was still closed. There is one more grocery nearby, we would just pop over there to the one in Patillas.  Well, we did find a line, but it was worth it.  While waiting in line, a woman came out and pointed to the MUCH shorter line for the elderly.  Another punch on Bruce's Old Guy Card!

Overall, we were happy to see that our little towns were taking this seriously.  There was even a guy outside in charge of managing the shopping carts.  We weren't allowed to touch one until he wiped it down with disinfectant! 

We moved to the head of the line and waited briefly.  People were coming out, but they weren't letting others in very fast.  Then we got called up as they let in 5 at a time.  Happily, there were few people inside the store shopping, so it was easy to keep a distance from one another.  There was plenty of stock, fresh veggies galore, and even toilet paper!  I was proud of our little town for not taking part in the hysteria that seems to be ravaging the rest of the country!

Back at home again, with our refrigerator now well stocked with healthy foods, we settled in to see how the rest of the world was faring. Sporting events are being postponed and cancelled. Schools are closing, with some even closing the school year down early. Employers are being urged to allow their workers to stay home, or work from home. Fuel prices are down, and the stock market is tanking... Best not to look too closely at that.  Even the Late Night Comedy shows are now taping without an audience!

What kind of world are we living in ??? It seems almost unrecognizable.  But you know what?  Now that the idiots who have flaunted the restrictions have begun to be corralled, we're seeing people everywhere beginning to adapt.  The internet is being used for group meetings to take the place of all kinds of things, from work groups, to church services.  Imagine what would happen if we could actually learn something from this.  If not ALL  things were to return to normal when this is over... whenever that might be.  Maybe some good could actually come of this!

Now, dear reader, don't get me wrong.  I'm sad that people are dying, but I can't focus only on the bad... I've got to find some good in everything as I sit here flipping through photos of so many fun things we've done in the past weeks before this.  So many "lasts"... But I'm going to turn my thoughts toward the last day we're on lockdown, and then to the many "firsts' yet to come!  Stay safe out there!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Showing Off My OSJ ~ Other People's Vacation Pics

Driftwood Octopus in a store window.  I. WANT. THIS!
Almost everyone who comes to visit us here in Puerto Rico, has things they wish to see in iconic Viejo San Juan!  Bruce and I are always happy to comply!  After being nearly rained out on our first day, the stunning beauty of rain-washed sunny skies more than made up for it!

Our plans for last evening were a wash.  Reservations we had for a Sunset Sail were quickly rescheduled for our second evening, which meant we needed to juggle a dinner date with friends... but with a new schedule, we set out to check off some more things from our bucket list.

Our morning started with a nice breakfast at a place June scouted for us. We followed growing sunny patches through the narrow streets, as long shadows of night gradually disappeared. Colorful buildings almost seemed to glow with a new warmth.  One of those colorful buildings was our destination!

Don't let the unremarkable name ~ 352 Food and Drink ~  put you off!   Inside these doors is a cozy, inviting atmosphere with a decidedly European civility.  Quiet music set the mood as we were offered local and Venezuelan specialties.  Simple, yet new to our palates, we all tried something different.

The owner of the restaurant was born in Venezuela, and she told us about her family's struggles to land on their feet after the collapse of their country's economy. What a success story!  I was happy to hear it and happy to support their continued success.

And the coffee was delicious!

Newly fortified, we set off toward Castillo de San Cristóbal!

Plaza Colón
Now you know that Bruce and I have visited this city many times... How can it be that this is the FIRST time we've made here?

Each time we go to El Morro, the Rangers tell us that THIS is the better fort to visit.  Well finally, today, we get to make that determination for ourselves.

Word is, that the long tunnels and dungeons make this the better of the two.  After wandering through the tunnels and exploring the grounds thoroughly, I tend to agree with what "they" say.  But it might just be because it was new to us today.

Either way, come see for yourself! This site is a part of the US National Parks system.  That means that if you have a Lifetime Senior Pass, you and your party enter FREE!

Or if not... you can just scroll on down and enjoy my photos!

I'm not going to bore you with a lesson in history.  If you want to know more about this site, you can start with Wikipedia!

We briefly enjoyed the museum pieces inside, where it's Air Conditioned!
Not many people out and about this morning!

For sure, the thing that makes this site stand above El Morro has got to be the series of very long and very old tunnels.  It's amazing to think that something built in the 1600-1700s, can withstand the ravages of time, when so many buildings going up in recent history have not aged as well.

These are said to have been done by a Captain detained here to await sentencing. 

Not a great photo, but I liked it!

I think between June and I... tunnels are kind of "Our Thing"
La Perla and El Morro in the distance

Peek through the gun slot!

Seriously thick walls!

Not every day we get to play with a pile of cannonballs!

Ghost Skivvies!
Yes, we climbed up!

It cracks me up that there is no Caution Tape here!!
El Garita del Diablo
I love these Garitas, they're like little playhouses that speak to my inner child.  I never miss an opportunity to stand in one and look out.  But this one... THIS Garita is not to be messed with.  THIS Garita, El Garita del Diablo, has a dark history.  Many stories have been circulated through the centuries. Built in 1634, this small guardhouse is much further from the other Garitas, and much closer to the sea. The story goes that a Spanish Guard disappeared while on watch here.  Perhaps he ran off with his Lady Love, or perhaps something far more unsavory happened to him.  It is said that if you venture close at night, you can hear his guitar and laughter.  Now you KNOW that this only makes me want to go down there more... right???  But with the waves off the coast today, that's not gonna happen!

Bruce's Man-Cave
We walked the entire grounds of the Castillo, then followed the inner wall to find an exit.  Unfortunately it was not a public gate, but just as we turned to make the long loop back to the entrance, a worker took pity upon us and opened the gate!  Sometimes it's better to be lucky than smart!

The aforementioned brilliant sky had not been in the forecast, and was now raining heat down upon us.  We made a stop for a quick rest and wardrobe change at our hotel...

Final days of this Canadian's visit include soaking up as much sun as possible before returning to winter!
Our rooftop view of the harbor.
Streets full of color! Our restaurant is the blue awning on the left.
Lunchtime had arrived, and we found another of the "Best of" restaurants on June's list ~ La Madre ~ Another hole-in-the-wall hit!  Bruce and I don't normally eat out as often as this.  When we're in OSJ, we usually just have two meals out per day, and still take home leftovers if our room has a fridge!  Luckily for us, Navona Suites does!  Sure, we could order one meal and split it, but then we would miss an opportunity to try new things!  This trip is filling out our "restaurant recommendations list" nicely!

Evidently sharing pitchers of Sangria is another "our thing"!
Once again fortified with sustenance, we set out on the streets again!  You just never know what you'll find here! Gotta say, having guests gives us an excuse to do quirky stuff!

No visit to this city is complete without a look at the Cathedral San Juan Bautista.  This structure holds the title of "Oldest Cathedral in the United States", and is the second oldest in the Americas.

The current structure was built in 1540, replacing the original wooden structure (1521) that was destroyed by a hurricane.  The Cathedral will celebrate its 500th ANNIVERSARY in 2021!

Inside the Cathedral, you'll find the Tomb of Juan Ponce DeLeon, and other religious relics.  While we aren't particularly "religious", I do enjoy the history and longevity of these places, and the architecture, and the beautiful art cross all borders.

Tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon

Standing here admiring the huge Puerto Rican flag stretched above Calle de la Forteleza, the people of this island once again showed their welcoming nature.

A man struck up a conversation with us and welcomed us to the island.  He joined the long list of people delighted by June, and her Canadian-ness... And then he joined the long list of people delighted with the fact that Bruce and I have made this Paradise our home.

Before a small group of "Ugly Americans" shooed us out of their way so that they could get that perfect photo, Eddie gave us his phone number and invited us to visit him in his mountain home in Morovis!

With promises to call soon, we skipped on to the next quick-stops on our route... beginning with a peek at Capilla del Santo Cristo del Salud.

The story goes, that this chapel was erected here at the end of the only long, straight street in the city, to commemorate a near-death experience.

The street was once used for horse racing, and when one of the racers lost control of his horse, he ended up flying toward a cliff, and certain death, at the end of the street where it abruptly dropped off.

He prayed that if his life was spared, he would build this chapel.

Just around the corner is La Casa Estrecha, or the narrow house.  Unfortunately, we did not call ahead to arrange for a tour, so a look at the outside was all we got this time.

This was the end of our exploration for today.  I think we showed June the highlights, as much as one can in a city where there is something awesome at every turn.  But we had an appointment to keep with a sailboat!

We went back to our room to change for a sunset sailing adventure!  As we sat, ready to go in our sailing garb, I got a text message once again cancelling the trip for weather.

The woman told me that it was "blowing a gale" out there.  I quickly checked the weather and found NOTHING showing any such thing.  In fact, the entire day had been sunny with a light breeze.  Lazy saps were just trying to get out of taking us!

I called back and told her that we would like to try it if the Captain would consider it... and they told us to come on out.  We took an Uber and arrived at the San Juan Marina, only to find that, indeed, it was blowing like stink.  Furthermore, the sunshine we had enjoyed all day long, was melting away to a huge pile of threatening clouds.  Literally as we stood on the dock, trying to decide if it would pass or not, the weather conditions continued to deteriorate.  We had to admit it.  No sailing for us tonight.

Crazy cross current.  We wouldn't take OUR boat out in this!
So back to the room for another wardrobe change... we had some time to kill before our 8pm dinner reservation at Triana. We strolled a bit, then stopped in at Carli's Piano Bar,  across from our restaurant for a drink.  As we watched cruise ship tourists try to sit at the tables outside, and be nearly blown away by the winds, we congratulated ourselves on our wise decision not to press for the sailing trip.  There would be another day for that.  Today, the crazy weather was STILL not showing up on the weather apps!

We blew across the street to claim our table at Triana, and were taken to a spot in the far back of the dining room.  I was a little disappointed about it, until I realized that there were two very long tables set up for cruising shippers, and it was much better to be away from them!  We welcomed our friends Vicki and Burton, residents of San Juan and much missed friends of ours.  While we came for the dinner show, I missed much of it because we were so busy trying to catch up with one another's lives!  I was a little ashamed for having suggested this place, because this night, the service was SUPER slow!  But after the show stopped and the tourists returned in one sweep to their ship... we had time to really chat.  That is, until we noticed the wait staff eyeing us as if we were keeping them.  In fact, we were!  It was awesome to get to see our old friends, but we said our goodbyes outside so that they could get back to their work-a-day lives.

Back at our hotel, Bruce and I crashed, leaving June to venture back out on her own.  I'm not sure what she got up to, but she was still alive in the morning when we met for breakfast.  Yet another fabulous find goes onto the list!

Cafe Mallorca is like stepping back in time.  They've got an old time soda-fountain counter, and diner type seating.  Everything is old and the wait staff are dressed impeccably, just like yesteryear!  The menu is varied, with local and American favorites, and they have an enticing pastry cabinet that whispered my name, diet be damned!  After we had a healthy(ish) breakfast, June and I took a trip with our server to peek behind the counter.  We each chose one treat! Mmm light and airy pastry goodness!

I love this man!
With happy tummies, we took off in our workout clothes for a nice, healthy walk along the lovely Paseo del Morro.  We hurried down to Paseo la Princessa so we could begin at the beginning, in the bright morning sunshine and calm breezes. When we arrived at the start of the walkway, we found it barricaded.  WHAT???

We asked a guy about it and he told us that it was closed because of the high seas.  It wasn't safe.  But, he said, the other gate would be open!

Off we went to the other gate!  But when we got there, we found it barricaded as well.  Well darn!  Peering outside the huge gate in the wall, we could actually see that a bunch of stuff along the walkway was tumbled by the waves.  The water must have come all the way up and over the walk to hit the wall last night!  Crazy!  Ok, well, there are plenty of places to walk in this town!  Off we went!

We had to budget our time and get in as much bang for our buck as possible... so we took June past El Morro and straight to.... the Cemetery!  If you only had a few hours left in town, wouldn't the cemetery be on your list???

We strolled a bit, and then I remembered that the last time we were here, we were promised a tour.  We found Daniel and followed him on a very odd, and questionably informative stroll through Creepy-Town!  The thing that strikes me the most about this cemetery, is that even though it is in one of the oldest cities in the world... the graves here are all relatively new.

Sure, they have the "patina" that time gives them, and some are merely crumbles, but the dates are not older than the 1800s for the most part.  How can this be?

Stunning works of art. 
Time's not up for this one. Daniel will cover it back up!
Well, we found out!  You see... according to Daniel, anyone who lives in San Juan can bury their dead here.  FOR. FREE! You only have to pay for the monument, and those can run from thousands, to almost half a million dollars!!!

Many of the graves have two, six, or even more(!!!) bodies in them.  Furthermore, when a grave becomes forgotten by the family, and falls to ruin... Daniel gets to decide if it's time for the remains inside to go!

Admit it.  You've always wanted to look inside of a grave!!!
After a period of five years in disgrace, an advertisement is placed in the newspaper (who reads the newspaper anymore???), and if nobody steps up, the remains are removed and either simply placed inside a plastic bag and discarded, or incinerated.  You heard it right!  No "perpetual care" here!  Island's don't got no room for dat!

With the Crypt-Keeper's eerie words still bouncing around inside my brain, I stood at the end of an open grave... and peered down inside.  Inside the concrete box were the crumbling remains of a coffin.  A. FREAKIN'. COFFIN!!

Looking more closely at Daniels prompting, I could make out some bones, and a SKULL!!  I did not show that in the photo out of some shriveled scrap of decency I have left!  You'll just have to believe me!

Daniel led us onward, explaining that a similar policy is applied to the ashes and urns left in these structures scattered throughout the graveyard.  After a period of time, they call the family to come claim them, and if nobody comes, they either move them elsewhere or throw them away!!!

Short term storage for your ashes!
He took us back toward the old buildings at the inside gate, and showed us the old rooms that had once served as a morgue.  Nice view for a morgue!

As we walked through the cemetery today, and on our last visit here as well, I remarked that so many of the statues were 'dirty'.  I remember the very first time we came here, back in 2004 or 2005, these monuments were scintillating white!  Snowy and sparkling in the brilliant tropical sun!  I wondered why that was and why they seem so neglected now.  Well, it wasn't the hurricane, as I suspected.  Although much of the disrepair and broken monuments are attributable to that, it's because the monuments are periodically cleaned, and they're just getting started with the project now.
Not yet cleaned! BIG difference!

I think Daniel would have led us around all day as he remembered stories about the inhabitants of his domaine.  Some of the residents HAVE been here for a long time.  Famous people, rich families, anyone who keeps watch over their deceased.  But don't turn your back on them, or some poser will pluck your grandma out of the ground and replace her with his uncle Chuck!

When I could see an opening, I thanked Daniel for his time, passed him a $20 and told him that we had a plane to catch!  Which was totally TRUE!  Today was June's last day in Puerto Rico, and we still needed to check out of our hotel and show her one more Puerto Rican icon!

Off to our room!
The fine, if somewhat frazzled, folks at Kiosko El Boricua would provide June's last taste of Puerto Rico.  We got in the unusually short line, and ran through the menu, picking out a little bit of everything.  What we don't eat now, Bruce and I will take home!
Endlessly frying and flipping...
This outdoor eatery is one of our 2016 discoveries.  There is nothing here to eat that is on ANYONE'S diet, so just forget that.  Everything is made from scratch, the Puerto Rican way, and it's all greasy, fried deliciousness... Except for the things in which Bacalao is used as a flavoring.  Long story, bad Bacalao experience in the Dominican Republic.  I can't handle it, so those things I shun... Everything else, I LOVE!

Just outside the reach of the heat from a pallet-wood cooking fire, we sat under a palapa on bird-poop covered stone patio furniture.  Immediately, two Satos took up residence at our side.  Their rheumy eyes stared listlessly at us in an attempt to subliminally persuade us to feed them.  We stood firm.

A man at another table took a plateful of meat to the edge of the patio, and one of the dogs went over to make short work of it, but then she returned to Bruce's side, impossibly un-sated.

I know it sounds BAD!  But it's like a train wreck... but we just can't help loving this place!

We filled our tummies, and with a light rain falling, crossed the street to take a look at one of Puerto Rico's northern coast beaches.  We never made it over to this side of the island for a beach day, but maybe that'll make it to the agenda on June's next visit!

We love having guests.  But I've gotta give June the award for Most-Stuff-Packed-Into-One-Week!  We hiked.  We climbed. We floated. We explored.  It was all such fun for Bruce and I, but especially for me, since I had a chance to do some things with just us girls!  It's been a long time since I've had that, and it was a real treat.

We took June to the airport and in a moment, just like that, our lives returned to their normal, much slower pace.  Practically within hours of that moment, the world turned on its head.  June had to self-quarantine (term of the times) upon her return to Canada... but that's another story.

Thanks to June for being game for anything, and probably the most easy-going and laid back guest we've ever had.  The bar is set!  Please come back!