Monday, March 9, 2020

Girls On The Loose ~ La Perla

I expected to do one post about the whole time we spent in Old San Juan and the vicinity, but when I began going through the photos, there were just too many to bunch into one post... So, this will be the first part of the last part of June's visit!  Of course, we couldn't let her leave without showing her our favorite tree, Ceiba Atabey, on our way to the city!

June greets us upon return from parking the car!
After turning in June's rental car, we checked into our hotel.  This time we stayed at the Navona Studios Guesthouse.  I love finding these (literally) little hole-in-the-wall places in the heart of Old San Juan. They're surprisingly inexpensive, and maybe if your standards tend toward the 5-Star Resort experience, you might not be happy with my suggestions.  But I love seeing the inside of these very old buildings, and our needs are quite simple after living on a boat for six years!  Even to the point of not being irritated if there is say... no hot water available.  If June was disappointed in the place, she was not obvious about it, and it was VERY cheap for the location.  So Bruce and I were happy!

The communal lounge right outside our door.
Our room, small, but adequate.
By the time we dropped off the rental, dropped June off to check in at the hotel and parked the car, then returned and settled into our room... we were all ravenous.  It was well after noon, and we had a list of restaurants we wanted to try.  Top of my list was our first meal of many ~ El Jibarito!~ Each of the dishes we ordered was simply and uniquely delicious.  The service was great, the vibe was totally Puerto Rico, and the prices weren't bad at all for a place so highly rated.
Chicken in garlic sauce SO good!!  Looks simple, but it was a symphony in my mouth!
Do NOT miss the Garlic sauce!  Just don't do it!
OK YOU try to get a photo with Bruce smiling like a normal person.  Just not possible!
After we had a restorative and very lively lunch, we wandered our way back to the hotel to drop Bruce off.  He was calling for a nap, and this was just fine with June and I, because we had BIG PLANS!
Not many people around today.
We settled him in snugly and took a quick look at the rooftop lounge atop our hotel building.  Cool space, even with the gathering gloom overhead.

Out we go again, into the damp and deserted streets.
The main entrance to La Perla
So what were these big plans? Today would be my FIRST visit to the often maligned Barrio of La Perla.  When we moved to the island, the neighborhood called La Perla was still a bit shadowy.  Historically, it was a place where the poorest of the poor were cast to live outside of the city walls.  It was a place for the "unclean" and unsavory types... and I guess times and values have changed somewhat.  Because in my book, the land along the very coast of the freakin' Caribbean Sea should be the most valuable of all, barring danger from storms and such.  But here were these people, trying to just survive, while they sat on a gold mine!

New community gardens!
Times are changing for La Perla though.  Even before the Barrio was thrust into the public eye by the hit song, Despacito, the people here were already pulling things together.  They cleaned up their streets, splashed vivid colors onto their walls, and invited artists to create one-of-a-kind artistic murals in places that would otherwise be an eyesore. Quirky bars and restaurants are opening, and the public, once fearful of setting foot on these grounds, is tentatively peeking through the veil of mystery, only to find yet another magical place to enjoy here in Puerto Rico!

Bright Kid's Space in the shadow of ancient walls.
There are community gardens being built, kid spaces, and recreational activities for groups are scheduled throughout the year.  Today, everything was quiet because it was threatening rain, and the winds were vicious.  It's been blowing for days, and the waters of the Caribbean are showing their might. It's a wonder these homes and businesses had any chance of surviving the hurricanes that ravaged the island just over two years ago... especially as this low ground is completely outside of the protective walls of the old city.

The waves threaten to engulf these streets!
Beautiful tile mosaic!  
A work in progress.  
Beautiful surprises everywhere!
The Malecon!  Looks a little WET!
We wandered and explored aimlessly, growing more damp with every step.  The Malecon was a wild place with the salt spray mixing with the light rain, blowing wet tendrils of hair across our faces relentlessly.  It made me feel so free, being out there so close to the Sea, with hardly a soul around but us and a few cats.

We peered into doorways, and down brightly painted alleyways, looking for... what?  Anything!  Just soaking it all up!

Somewhere along the Malecon, we passed, or almost passed... a sign advertising that several flavors of Pitorro could be found inside.  YES PLEASE!!!

We went around and ducked inside, hoping for a respite from the wild wind, but the windows were wide open to the elements.  Inside, there was a small group of people gearing up to play some music.  A beautiful woman dressed in white, sat on a stool, her hands busy with a set of maracas.

The bartender poured our chosen treat, Coco for me!  My favorite!  And we enjoyed the brief instant that the delicious, yet potent liquid lingered on our tongues.


I've got no idea why there are two of those cups in my hands!
Totally enjoying my rare Girls Day Out!
With thanks and goodbyes, we went back out into the weather and continued on down the Malecon.  I had read some about this place, but not recently. But when we walked up on the next point of interest, I recognized it instantly as "EL BOWL"!  This is another of the neighborhood renovation efforts! It's a place where artists can express themselves, skaters can enjoy their sport, and reportedly, on weekends, the locals fill it with water and have their own community swimming pool in the hot summer months!
I know what THIS is....

Continuing on our walk, the weather seemed to be worsening.  There was a bit more rain, and the waves were just ferocious!  We watched as a cruise ship slowly made her way into port.

We left the Malecon, and continued along the shoreline on a street that was lined with one long collection of murals, all dedicated to those who lost their lives in the hurricanes of 2017.

We continued on, winding our way through the neighborhood streets, marveling at the brightly colored homes.  There are still very few people out, although there are plenty of parked cars.  Not many willing to be out in this mess!  I'll definitely have to return on a more sunny day to see what we've missed!

June, conversing with the gatos!
Serene garden gate!
This is the eastern end of La Perla.  It abuts the cemetery!

Street curves around and meets the wall again, where we found stairs to climb up and out of the Barrio. 

La Garita
From the cemetery wall, you have to follow the street around and back up the hill alongside the outer city wall.  A stairway leads out of La Perla, but not before taking us by one last street with unexptect surprises, and another iconic restaurant/bar, sadly closed.  Next time La Garita!  I promise!

With much more than a sprinkle now falling, we hurried along the soggy streets toward our hotel and nary even the promise of a hot shower for our troubles!  But it was fun, running like wet rats, through the empty streets of this ancient city!

I actually love seeing all of the many moods of Old San Juan.  She's beautiful, whatever the weather.

Back at our hotel, we showered and rested up a bit, waiting for our reservation time at our next must-do restaurant, Punto de Vista.

This place is on the top floor - rooftop actually - of one of the hotels in the old town.  It is known for its romantic rooftop dining, but tonight, there would be none of that. The rain continued to come and go, and the winds were just blowing ridiculously!

We stopped in earlier to make our reservation, and showed up to be seated immediately.

It's another quirky place, and they seem to be enjoying quite a crowd for such a nasty night.  We got a great corner table, right in front of the windows that continuously threatened to come crashing in every time a particularly strong gust hit the building.

The view from the window.
My pork tacos foreground, Bruce had fish tacos.
Well, sadly, this place did not rate the number of stars it enjoys on multiple review platforms.  It's nice for ambiance and quirkiness, the service was good, and had the rooftop been open, it might have rated a little higher for that... My food was OK, but both Bruce and June were disappointed.

Returning home late in the evening, we were treated to yet another face of Old San Juan.  I am learning to love her many moods as we come here time and again.  It just never gets old.  Now we have a new place to add to our long list that we offer visitors.  La Perla is another hidden treasure we will continue to explore!

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